There is the road less traveled – and then there is the path Jannero Pargo followed in pursuit of his dream.
All Pargo ever wanted was to be a professional basketball player. The Hawks guard made it to the NBA after being an undrafted free agent, not an easy accomplishment itself. Since, he has played for five NBA teams – including three in one season. He was waived or released more times than he cares to remember. There were stints in the American Basketball Association, Russia and Greece. He was even displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
“I just really wanted to be in the NBA, more than anything in the world,” Pargo said. “I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from living my dream.”
Although he is on a one-year deal, Pargo might be on his securest footing as a valuable member of the Hawks bench, proving time and again to be a spark in a time of need.
Consider Pargo’s performance in three of the past four games:
* He scored 15 points, 12 in a second quarter, as the Hawks defeated the Magic on Feb. 23.
* He scored 11 fourth-quarter points in a late rally for a win over the Bucks Friday.
* He hit two key 3-pointers, one to end the third quarter and one to start the fourth, as part of a victory over the Thunder Saturday.
“The thing about him is he is never going to lose his confidence,” Hawks player development instructor Nick Van Exel said.
Pargo (6-foot-1) played collegiately at the University of Arkansas, with Hawks six-time All-Star Joe Johnson. He went to training camp with the Lakers in 2002-03 figuring he could follow in the footsteps of the departed Tyronn Lue, another small guard. He beat the odds and made the team, playing 34 games with the Lakers.
The next season, the Lakers brought in Gary Payton and Pargo was released. He played two games with the Long Beach Jam of the ABA.
“I got a chance to play and I was like ‘Wow, it doesn’t really matter where you play. As long as you are playing the game of basketball, that is what matters the most,’” Pargo said. “At that point, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t in the NBA I just wanted to play the game I love to play. I fell back in love with the game, actually being out there and competing.”
After the short stint, Pargo signed with the Raptors but played just five games before Rod Strickland was brought in and he was sent packing again. He landed with his hometown Bulls for the rest of the season, where he played two more years.
“I never felt sorry for myself,” Pargo said. “At that point, when I got to Chicago, my mindset was to do it my way. Play the way that I know how to play. If I get released again, heck I’ve been released three times all ready. I got to Chicago and I just wanted to play the game the way I know how to play and that’s to be aggressive.”
Pargo signed with the Hornets in 2006-07 and played in all 82 games, averaging 9.2 points a game, with the team in Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina. Another solid 80-game year with the Hornets followed and Pargo felt it was time to be rewarded. “I kind of felt under-appreciated,” he said.
When a fitting offer didn’t come he signed a multi-million dollar deal to play in Russia. While Pargo said he enjoyed his time there was a matter of collecting his paycheck in a timely fashion. “I guess they didn’t appreciate me enough to pay me on time,” Pargo joked. After a buyout, he spent the rest of the season in Greece.
He returned to the United States, back with the Bulls, and spent the previous two seasons in Chicago. After playing in 63 games, he missed all of last season with a knee injury. Once the NBA lockout was over Pargo landed with the Hawks, with an assist from a former teammate.
“During the process, they talked to Joe a couple of times to get a feel for me as a player and as a person,” Pargo said of Johnson, as the two have side-by-side lockers. “I’m sure he was biased because we played together in college, we are great friends, we are always together during the summer. Even though he was biased toward me they still did their due diligence in figuring out everything about me – am I healthy, can I still play? Fortunately they believed in me and gave me a chance.”
Prago's younger brother Jeremy is now getting his chance with the Memphis Grizzlies. The younger Prago was undrafted out of Gonzaga and played in Israel before sigining a free agent contract with the Memphis team in December.
Hawks coach Larry Drew and other teammates have praised Jannero Pargo as a true professional. He has accepted his role off the bench and is determined to make a difference – both on offense and defense -- when called upon.
Pargo is averaging 4.8 points and 11.8 minutes in 32 games for the Hawks.
“It’s a tough thing to do,” Pargo said of his role as spark plug. “In order to be good at that role, you first have to accept it. You have to embrace it. That’s something I’ve done throughout my career. I look forward to coming straight off the bench and being aggressive and helping my team any way I can. It’s something I look forward to doing. I’ve been doing it my whole career. I’d like to think I’m pretty decent at it right now.”
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