Kevin Pangos was looking forward to his first appearance with Canada’s basketball team in years. He went to great lengths with his new club, FC Barcelona, to be able to play. But for a few moments earlier this week, the 25-year-old point guard must have wondered if he’d make it to Montreal at all.
Pangos was en route from Spain to Montreal when his plane was forced to make an emergency landing in St. John’s. He and his fellow passengers were told to quickly read through the safety instructions and then assume the crash position.
“I saw the flight attendant, she was trying to play it cool, but her smile didn’t look so real, that made me a little nervous,” Pangos said. “Everyone was kind of panicking on the plane, thinking like, ‘This doesn’t sound so good.’ It was frightening.”
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He tried to text his family, but didn’t have cellphone service.
Passengers were eventually told there’d been a smell of smoke in the cockpit.
Pangos finally arrived in Montreal in the early hours of Tuesday. Sitting in a university gym in downtown Montreal moments after his practice with Canada, the Gonzaga product talked about his determination to help his national team in Thursday’s World Cup qualifying game against Brazil.
Pangos led Lithuanian team Zalgiris Kaunas to its first EuroLeague Final Four appearance in 19 years last spring, and then was signed by Barcelona, one of the world’s top professional programs. The contract process included a lot of back and forth to convince the club to allow him to play for Canada.
“They sent an e-mail saying, ‘We understand the importance of this to you,’” Pangos said. “So it was all discussed, and when I got there it wasn’t easy, but we had to discuss it so both sides could be happy and this was the compromise we came to – less days of camp.”
Pangos has been training with Barcelona for a couple of weeks, and already played an exhibition tournament with his new team. Despite being bleary-eyed from barely any sleep, the native of Holland Landing, Ont., was all smiles about joining his Canadian teammates.
“I just wanted to represent the country. Coming back here, it’s like a family, all these guys at a young age I either played with or played for, the coaches, the therapists and stuff, that’s No. 1, just wearing Canada on your chest,” Pangos said. “It felt like something that was really important, I haven’t had a chance for a while, and it’s always such an honour, and when I saw this window and I saw the importance of these games as well it was something I really wanted to do.”
Pangos has been sidelined by injury or conflicts for a few years. Racking his brain Tuesday, he couldn’t recall the last time he wore the red and white jersey. He does recall growing up it was always the part of his summer he looked forward to most.
“It was a commitment I did every year,” he said. “I did it from the youngest age group every summer until I was 19 or so and then I just haven’t been able to in a while. For me it was something I always loved to do.”
Pangos was a key part of Canada’s team that won bronze at the 2010 U17 World Championships, earning all-tournament team honours.
“It’s just nice to have Kevin back, he’s been with us for so long,” said Canadian coach Roy Rana, who also coached that U17 bronze-medal team. “He’s just such a savvy veteran, now he really understands how to play. With him in the backcourt with Cory [Joseph], whether it’s them sharing it or playing off of each other, it’s a really nice thing to have.”
Long-time EuroLeague star Juan Carlos Navarro just retired from Barcelona, opening up what Pangos hopes is “more opportunity” with his new club.
“They haven’t had the season they’ve wanted to the last couple of years so it’s a great opportunity for me to step in there and help get some wins and help build a successful program,” he said. “That being said I’m just excited to be part of such a great club and get as many wins as we can.”
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The Canadians, who went 5-1 through the first round of qualifying, will fly to Chile for their second game of this window Sept. 17.
The final two qualifying windows see Canada play at Venezuela on Nov. 30 and Brazil on Dec. 3. Canada will host Chile on Feb. 21 and Venezuela on Feb. 24.
The World Cup is Aug. 31 to Sept. 15 in China.