Kevin Panzer wants Nevada Wolf Pack basketball fans to understand one thing about his game.
“I’m way more athletic than people think I am,” the Wolf Pack’s 6-foot-9 junior said recently.
This year Panzer will get to prove it.
After spending his first two seasons mainly coming off the bench, Panzer will get the first crack at the Wolf Pack’s starting power forward position left open by the departure of senior Olek Czyz. Panzer has averaged a mere 2.6 points and 2.3 rebounds over his 66-game Wolf Pack career.
“Kevin has a chance to be one of our most improved players this year,” Wolf Pack coach David Carter said.
Of course, that will likely depend on how much Panzer remains on the floor.
Panzer has averaged just under 12 minutes a game in his first two seasons. He’s only played 20 or more minutes in a game 12 times in his two seasons. Almost half (five) of those 20-plus minute games, though, came before Czyz joined the team in the middle of December of 2010 in Panzers‘ freshman year.
“The past few years my minutes have been based on how well Olek was playing,” said Panzer, who averaged 2.9 points and 2.5 points a game last year in 34 games off the bench.
Panzer has only started 10 games in his Pack career and they call came early his freshman year. He started seven games before Czyz became eligible and three with Czyz before losing his starting spot to Jerry Evans.
“It has been difficult to get into any type of rhythm or flow at all,” Panzer said. “It’s hard because you want to go in there and take advantage of the minutes you do get. But you can’t just force it. I’ve just had to learn how to adapt to the situation.”
It has been a bumpy two seasons for Panzer. His freshman year, mainly because of the emergence of Czyz in the middle of December 2010, he kind of disappeared from any sort of meaningful minutes the final 20 games of the year. But that was to be expected his freshman year.
Last year, though, was a strange year for the former Capistrano Valley High standout.
“I started off well and ended well,” he said. “In between I didn’t do as well as I would have liked.”
That in between period lasted from about Game 4 through Game 31.
Panzer played very well the first three games of the year, scoring 28 points and pulling down 13 rebounds over 58 minutes combined against Missouri State, UNLV and Pacific. At the time he was actually outplaying Czyz, who had just 22 points and 11 boards over 59 minutes during the first three games.
But over the Pack’s next 28 games, Panzer struggled at both ends of the court and Carter found it difficult to give him consistent minutes. It also didn’t help Panzer’s cause that the Pack went 25-3 in those 28 games.
Along the way there were some very unproductive nights for the sophomore. He had two points in 18 minutes against Prairie View A&M, seven points in 49 minutes combined against Bradley, Washington and Arizona State. He didn’t score at all in 11 minutes against Cedarville and had just two points in 16 minutes against Riverside.
He played 56 minutes combined in eight important Western Athletic Conference games against Utah State (twice), Fresno State (twice), Hawaii, New Mexico State, San Jose State and Louisiana Tech and did not score a single point.
“We are looking for more consistency out of Kevin this year,” Carter said. “And I think you’ll see that as his minutes become more consistent.”
Panzer, though, did show signs of life in the Pack’s final four games. He had six points in eight minutes on a pair of 3-pointers in the heartbreaking loss to Louisiana Tech in the WAC tournament, five points and six boards in a dozen minutes against Oral Roberts and six points in seven minutes against Bucknell. Against Stanford he only scored two points but he had six boards in 22 minutes.
“The starting job is definitely wide open this year,” Panzer said. “I’ve been here two years and I’ve learned a lot and I’m confident I’ll show that I deserve those minutes.”
He has added about 20 pounds of muscle this season and is now bulked up to 225 pounds.
“I worked out a lot and got a lot stronger,” Panzer said. “It was important for me to add strength.”
Carter has been impressed with the new and improved Panzer.
“He’s gotten stronger,” Carter said. “He needed to do that because we need him to get inside and rebound for us. He’s actually a better low post defender than people give him credit for.”
Despite his 6-9 frame, though, rebounding has not been a Panzer strength his first two years. His freshman year he did have an 11-rebound game against Houston and last year he had a season-high six boards in a game four different times. But he also had a three-game stretch last year against UC Riverside, Portland and Cedarville when he had three rebounds in 39 minutes combined.
“My freshman year I really wasn’t used to all the banging down low,” he said. “I was still kind of growing into my size back then. Last year I got a little more used to it and did a lot better. But I also knew I still had to add more weight.”
The added strength — and minutes — should help inflate his rebounding numbers this year.
“I’m just kind of growing into my size,” Panzer said. “This is probably the first year where I feel comfortable and strong. I had a huge growth spurt in high school when I went from 6-2 to 6-8 in one year. I had unbelievable growing pains. Everyday I’d wake up and just feel taller. It was difficult getting used to it. So I guess in some ways I still think of myself as that 6-2 shooting guard I was before I got to 6-8.”
It was that combination — a power forward’s body with shooting guard skills — that made Panzer so attractive to college scouts in high school. His senior year at Capistrano Valley he averaged 15.7 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.8 blocks. He scored 24 points and had 10 rebounds against Galena High of Reno on Dec. 12, 2009. That year he also had a 24-point, 13-rbound, 15-block game against Canyon, 27 points and 17 boards against San Clemente and 19 points and 20 boards against Diamond Ranch.
“I look at myself as an inside outside type of player,” said Panzer, who actually gave a verbal commitment to Penn his senior year in December 2009 before signing with the Pack in May of 2010. “I still think of myself as an outside scorer because I can shoot. But I can go inside if need be.”
Panzer’s shot has been as inconsistent as his minutes so far in a Wolf Pack uniform. He’s shot just 37% from the field and 30% from 3-point range. He also doesn’t go to the free throw line all that often, making just 13-of-28 free throw (.464) in his career.
Carter also expects all those numbers to increase dramatically this year.
“We’re looking for him to have a breakout year shooting the ball,” Carter said. “He’s going to have nights when he hits five or six threes in a game. He’s that good of a shooter.”
Panzer said he hasn’t lost any of his confidence as a shooter.
“Shooting is all I did before I had that growth spurt,” he said. “I know I can shoot.”
The opportunity for extended minutes this year has Panzer smiling.
“Devonte (Elliott) and I have to step in and replace Olek and Dario (Hunt) inside,” Panzer said. “And we’re excited. This is what we’ve been waiting for.”