SPOKANE – Kevin Pangos glanced at Gary Bell Jr., and there was venom in his eyes.
“We’re not friends,” Pangos growled.
What’s this? Turmoil on Team Hug? Disenchantment in Basketball Wonderland? A tiff between ’Dogs in the Kennel?
Nah. The famously warm family environment of Gonzaga Bulldogs basketball is alive and well, since Pangos’ voice was dripping with sarcasm when he spoke of Bell.
“We’re good friends off the court,” Pangos said. “We hang together a lot ... he’s the most laid-back guy you’ll meet.”
Pangos and Bell excelled as freshmen starting guards last season.
Pangos led the well-balanced Bulldogs with 13.6 points and 3.4 assists per game. Bell, the former Kentridge High School star, was fourth in scoring (10.4) and first in the West Coast Conference in 3-point shooting percentage (47.7).
Bell was also first when it came to drawing the defensive assignment against the opposition’s best guard. Longtime Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who will stoop to overstatement the very moment the earth stops spinning on its axis, said Bell was the best freshman guard defensively in Bulldogs history.
“He’s the best just because of his discipline for 40 minutes,” Few said. “He never ‘cheats’ a screen.
“He always took the scouting reports very serious. He was just really, really solid in his approach.”
The latter comment applies to Bell off the court as well. A business major, Bell takes his classwork seriously.
“It’s tougher right now,” Bell said. “Definitely some of the harder classes I’ve taken – ever. Accounting, business management systems.”
“He’s pretty much solid in all facets of his life,” Few said. “I don’t worry too much about Gary in anything: School-wise, basketball-wise, socially.
“He’s well-grounded. His mom and dad did a great job.”
After a spotty start last season (“He was pressing,” Few said), Bell wound up starting 26 games for the 26-7 Bulldogs. Gonzaga made its annual NCAA tournament run and went 1-1, but Bell and his teammates are still miffed about finishing second to Saint Mary’s in the WCC in the regular season and the conference tournament.
“We try to keep that as motivation, because we haven’t won anything,” Bell said. “Especially our (freshman) class: Me, Kevin and Kyle Dranginis, and the freshmen coming in.”
Some media types predict Gonzaga, with four returning starters, will advance to the NCAA tournament Final Four. The Bulldogs were ranked 21st and 22nd in the two major preseason polls, and WCC coaches picked Gonzaga to capture the league title.
“We see that (Final Four) stuff, but we just have to take one game at a time,” Bell said.
“Last year, I think we were kind of looking ahead sometimes. Kind of looking over a team that we were supposed to beat. Came out sluggish.
“This year, we have that chip on our shoulder.”
Bell, who joined Pangos on the all-WCC freshman team, has been named to the preseason all-WCC team along with teammates Elias Harris, Sam Dower and Pangos.
“I feel like we’re a deeper team,” Bell said. “We have guys coming off the bench that can possibly start in a lot of D-I (NCAA Division I) programs in the nation.
“That’s going to help us a lot. Play four minutes, then you put in a new five that can do the same things the starting five can.”
Bell said he has no personal goals statistically – “I just want to win” – but his stats might make a significant jump this season. Bell took 95 fewer shots (230) than team leader Harris last year, and Bell attempted 90 fewer 3-pointers (107) than team leader Pangos.
“He’s more aggressive,” Pangos said. “He can definitely score. He’ll put up more shots. Defensively, he’s still a lock-down defender.”
“Hopefully, we can find him some 3’s,” Few said. “I think they’ll be harder to come by this year, because I think people will be keying on him.”
Bell sounds ready and willing to take on more responsibility.
“One year older, one year stronger,” he said. “I definitely feel more confident.”