by HOWIE STALWICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & J & lt;/span & eremy Pargo grew up on the mean streets of Chicago's South Side, but his ready smile and easygoing charm make him a perfect fit on and off the basketball court at Gonzaga.
"I've seen a lot of guys who made bad mistakes," Pargo says. "I've seen a lot of wrong in my life. Life is too short to come out and have a frown on your face every day."
Pargo has brought plenty of smiles to faces of Gonzaga fans the past three years, but perhaps never more so than at the team's public scrimmage last month.
With 5,000 Zag-nuts waiting breathlessly to watch their heroes play hoops for the first time in seven months, Pargo kept them waiting just a little while longer.
The junior point guard guided his teammates out to center court prior to the scrimmage, popped on some sunglasses, then went just a little bit gonzo. Pargo led the Bulldogs -- most of whom play hoops infinitely better than they dance -- in a rousing hip-hop dance routine that caused the crowd at the McCarthey Athletic Center to go absolutely bonkers.
"I just wanted to do it and have fun with it," Pargo says innocently.
Asked if Pargo was responsible for "dance night" at Gonzaga, senior forward David Pendergraft rolls his eyes and says, "Of course. No one else would come up with that idea."
Pargo is similarly imaginative when it comes to basketball. He briefly considered turning pro right out of high school, and he gave it "maybe a tad bit of thought" after last season. If all goes well this season, Pargo says he would consider passing up his senior year to try to join older brother Jannero in the NBA.
"Pargo's a great guy, a great leader, on and off the court," Pendergraft says. "Just his court savvy, the energy he always brings. He just gets people fired up every day, and he makes big plays."
Told that he sounds like he's describing himself, Pendergraft quickly replies, "Except he's a lot better."
Well... yes. His senior year, one basketball Website ranked Pargo 21st among high school players nationwide.
"He's the most sought-after player we've ever signed at Gonzaga," coach Mark Few said at the time. "There were a lot of Top 25 programs who wanted him."
Pargo liked the "togetherness" theme that is stressed so much at Gonzaga. Things weren't always that way back home, of course. Pargo grew up playing outdoors on concrete courts where tempers and violence erupted on a regular basis.
"Oh, of course," Pargo says nonchalantly. "It's always like that where I'm from."
Pargo says he rose above it with plenty of help from Jannero, now a veteran guard with the NBA's New Orleans Hornets, and his mother, Charlie Mae.
"My mother has always been there," says Pargo, who had little contact with his late father. "For me, she's a great role model. I love her dearly."
The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Pargo says his brother also provided a good role model. A demanding one, too.
"When I was young, it was either make the shot or get beat up [mentally]," Pargo says with a laugh. "It was either make him happy about [Jeremy] making a shot or hear what he had to say if I missed a shot."
In his first year at Gonzaga, Pargo shot an abysmal 28 percent from the field (23 percent on 3-pointers) and averaged just 2.7 points. Last season, Pargo moved into the starting lineup and made the All-West Coast Conference first team by shooting 49 percent from the field (37 percent on 3's) and averaging 12.1 points, 4.6 assists and 1.4 steals.
"Jeremy really came of age last season and showed how valuable he can be to this team," Few says. "He really carried us at times."
Pargo says he's excited about the "ridiculous" depth on the 14th-ranked Bulldogs. Pargo says all that depth is just one reason why Gonzaga can win the NCAA championship this year.
"That's the goal of just about every school playing basketball," Pargo says. "It's more reality for us than just a goal. It's something we can actually obtain here."
If it happens, one can only imagine what Pargo will do for a victory dance.