Originally created 01/04/03

Evans grad follows his heart to Augusta State

It was one day before basketball practice and into Augusta State coach Gary Tuell's office stepped a moderately doughy young man straight out of storage in the "Where are they now?" file.

Armed with a 7-year-old resume, semi-retired jump shot, desire to learn the coaching ropes and a can't-miss personality, 26-year-old Shane Pangle presented his case for using the few semesters of collegiate eligibility he has left with Tuell's Jaguars.

"I don't care if I ever get to play, I just want to be around the team," Pangle said to the coach.

"That won me over right there," Tuell said of the curly haired player that reminded him of comedian Bill Murray. "I loved the guy immediately."

By the next night, so did everyone else, as the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Pangle wheezed through gassers in his own version of Midlife Madness. Three years removed from collegiate baseball and working contract sales for a lumber company hadn't prepared Pangle for preseason drills.

"We didn't run like that in baseball," Pangle said. "I almost had to tell the coach I had to get out of there. But I decided to stick it out."

The former standout athlete for Evans High School has a new outlet for his passion - even if it doesn't look that way on the Augusta State stat sheet. He's played all of 24 minutes in the Jaguars' first nine games, making two of five shots entering today's 8 p.m. game against Paine at Christenberry Fieldhouse.

But Pangle is loving every minute of his second chance to hoop it up, such as it is.

"Sports has always been my life, and basketball was always something I loved," he said. "Coaching is something I was interested in, and that's, ultimately, why I came to talk to coach Tuell."

HIS RESUME AND prep clippings tell the story of "Shane the Plane." The all-time leader in scoring (1,210 points), assists and 3-pointers at Evans. All-state selection by The Associated Press and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Leading region scorer (22.9 ppg) among peers that included Thomson's Vonteego Cummings and Westside's Ricky Moore and William Avery.

"I tell all these guys that Ricky (Moore) held me to 27 points, and Vonteego held me to 25," Pangle said with a laugh. "They get a kick out of it."

"I think it's all a lie," said Augusta State senior guard Chris Harriman. "He tells me he's going to bring out press clips where he scored 40 on someone, but I think it's all a myth. The myth of Shane Pangle."

One day former North Augusta and South Carolina star Antonio Grant showed up at the Augusta State gym for a scrimmage and confirmed the myth. Despite the added pounds and thinner hair, Grant recognized Pangle right off.

"That guy had game," Grant told Tuell.

Pangle left Evans in 1995 with basketball in his heart but baseball in his future. He received overtures from the New York Yankees and Colorado Rockies before accepting a baseball scholarship at the University of Georgia.

"Basketball was always my first love, but I was just better at baseball," he said.

Two modest seasons and one coaching change later, Pangle took his baseball talents to Georgia Southern in 1998. After a bad opening series against Georgia Tech, he found himself on the bench and out of interest for the game.

"It wasn't as fun any more," said the fun-loving Pangle.

Without baseball, Pangle left school and went to work at Culpepper Lumber Co. in Thomson. In June 2001, he married the owner's daughter, Margaret Brooks, and settled in for a life of contract sales.

Basketball, however, had never left Pangle's blood. The grandson of a former basketball coach at Tennessee Tech, Pangle had a yen to pursue coaching. Margaret could understand: She was a 1,000-point scorer at Briarwood Academy. The Pangles did a little coaching together at Briarwood.

He hopes Tuell, who has turned the Jaguars into a Peach Belt Conference power, can convey to him the art of coaching.

"I learn something every day just being around coach Tuell and the team," Pangle said.

THE TEAM IS learning something from Pangle. He's the kind of personality you can't help but gravitate toward. His humor keeps everybody loose in practice and on the bench.

"He's great for team chemistry," Tuell said. "All the players respect him. He's never backed down and never asked out. He's got such a strong work ethic. They look at him and think, 'If Shane - who doesn't play much, is out of shape and old - can do it, I can't give up."'

Most walk-ons seem to be adopted by the team, but it's Pangle who seems to have adopted Augusta State. He has players out to his house for cookouts and Thanksgiving Day dinner. He takes teammates hunting. The teammate they call "Old Man" and "Grandpa" even offers mortgage advice when solicited.

"He gives guys a reason to smile every day," Tuell said.

The time spent taking 15 hours of classes toward his marketing degree, practicing basketball and commuting to and from Thomson is costly. Classes start around 8 a.m., and practices often keep him out until midnight. Pangle gave Margaret a golden retriever puppy for Christmas to make the house a little less empty while he's pursing his passion.

"She's been really incredible letting me do this," Pangle said of Margaret. "She loves basketball, too. If she didn't, I probably wouldn't be doing this."

His personal reward is the camaraderie that only a tightly knit team can provide. Pangle helps bind this team.

"He knows he's not here to score 20 points a night," Harriman said. "He contributes a lot. Guys get real tense around here, so it's good to have one guy who's having a good time and trying to get guys up."

Already 12 pounds lighter, Pangle hopes to contribute a little more as he gets his game back in order - whether or not he ever gets back his 31-inch vertical leap.

"The pace of the game is something I'm continuing to adjust to," he said. "I hope by the middle of January or February I might be able to get a few minutes and help out when I'm in. Time will tell. But for now I just keep the guys up. That's the role I have to play. I'm enjoying that."

That's enough for Tuell, who's convinced Pangle will one day make a great basketball coach.

"I'd love to play for him," Tuell said.

Until then, Pangle still loves to play for Tuell. Before he's done, Augusta State might get a glimpse of his mythic shooting prowess that once dazzled the area.

"I think he's going to help us win some games," Tuell said. "But if he doesn't, he helps us every day just being there."

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.


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