If you told the people of Holland Landing, a small town in Canada, that one of their hometown heroes was playing a key role in the playoffs, they would assume you were talking about the rink rather than the court. The suburb of Toronto, like much of the country, is very much ice hockey territory.
So Kevin Pangos went against the grain when he followed a career with the ball instead of the puck.
"Ice hockey is everywhere in Canada," the Zenit St Petersburg guard admitted. "Growing up, when I said I played basketball, people wouldn’t understand it the same way they did the hockey teams and the hockey leagues that all my buddies were playing. Hockey was definitely the preferred sport. No matter where you were in Canada, it was all hockey. That’s changed a little now because the Toronto Raptors have had a major influence, but still hockey is Canada’s sport and everyone’s so passionate about it, even though basketball is growing."
"Basketball was the one sport I could play non-stop, I never got sick and tired of it."
Like any other sports-mad youngster in Canada, Pangos did play plenty of hockey in his early days, his parents ensured that he was also exposed to other sports.
"I played a lot of sports growing up – hockey, volleyball, basketball, soccer. I tried a bit of everything," he recalled. "My parents were basketball players in college, and my dad was a college basketball coach. So I was around basketball all the time and I picked it up like that.
"I continued playing lots of sports, but basketball was the one I could play forever. It was the one sport I could play non-stop, I never got sick and tired of it. The other sports, I need that off-season break, to go from volleyball to hockey, from hockey to soccer. But with basketball, I wanted to play year-round. There was always something I wanted to improve and learn, and I met so many people along the way who helped me learn. So I was getting great resources and I just stuck even though I was in hockey territory."
Pangos believes that his playing all sorts of sports ultimately helped him retain his boyhood passion for basketball, which he values very highly now that it has also become his profession.
"My mom always wanted us to try a bunch of different sports, so I was never pushed or forced towards basketball. And I’m grateful for that because it meant that I never got burned out by basketball. I always had passion for the game – still to this day. Even when it becomes a job, I still enjoy it and I show up every day and have fun," Pangos added.
"I say that all the time when I go to camps and I’m talking to younger kids, I always tell them to enjoy it, especially at their age. If they do want to play professionally in the future, if you don’t enjoy it when you’re young there’s no chance when it becomes your job. Because it does turn into a job. There are days when you show up and you’re tired, you’re sore, you don’t really feel like going, but when you have the love of the game, still it’s all worth it. Once I get to the point where I don’t enjoy it, I know it’s time to hang it up."
Two other factors helped keep the young Pangos enthused about basketball during his early days in the sport. Firstly, the proximity of NBA team Toronto Raptors: "I went to watch the Raptors a bunch of times,” he said. "It was pretty special being in that environment. There was one time I got one of the players’ practice jersey. Eric Montross. He wasn’t even a star and it was a triple XL so it still doesn’t fit me to this day, but it was amazing that we had it. I’ve still got it in my closet at home! Having the Raptors there right down the road gave you something to dream about. I remember getting in the arena and seeing the bright lights, and thinking 'This is incredible.' The Raptors were great to support when I was growing up."
And, of course, then there was probably the greatest Canadian basketball player in history: Steve Nash. The two-time NBA MVP was at his peak just as Pangos started to become more serious about the sport, so being able to watch him perform regular heroics was understandably a major inspiration.
"I met [Steve Nash] once at national team camp and from that day forward we built a relationship."
"Having Steve Nash do what he was doing on a global stage, being from Canada, you saw it like: 'It is possible.' It gave you something that you could dream towards. So that was awesome, and having the Raptors as well, you could watch some games and see what a high level it was. Those two things were definitely a big influence for myself and a lot of Canadians growing up.
"I consider Steve a friend of mine now. He’s been great throughout my career, being super supportive. I met him once at national team camp and from that day forward we built a relationship. He’s been nothing but supportive. It’s been incredible. I didn’t expect much at first because he’s obviously Steve Nash, he’s got his own life, his own things to do, but he checks in from time to time and he’s been a great friend up until this day. I've worked out with him a couple of times and he’s shared a bunch of his knowledge. So, incredible guy, incredible athlete. He’s special, for sure."
And now, as faces his former club FC Barcelona in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs, Pangos is playing his part in helping turn Canada’s spotlight a little more towards basketball.