MEMPHIS, Tenn. – If youthful energy, unwavering confidence and a great big grin can help Memphis stay in the top ranks of college basketball, Tigers fans will be happy with their new head coach.
“I’m excited. I’m energized. I’m pumped up. I’m jacked,” ex-Arizona Wildcat Josh Pastner said Tuesday at a news conference to introduce him as John Calipari’s successor. “I’m ready to rock ‘n’ roll.”
Pastner, 31, certainly won his news conference in Memphis, often pausing while Tigers boosters and supporters broke into cheers during his high-energy banter with reporters.
Though he didn’t get the Arizona job he coveted, Pastner took several opportunities during his 30-minute news conference Monday to speak of his admiration and gratitude to mentor Lute Olson.
“Coach Olson called me yesterday, actually beat me to the punch,” Pastner said. “I was trying to call him, but he called me. He was very, very happy for me. I thanked him, obviously, for his opportunity there that he gave me at the University of Arizona. He was ecstatic for me. It’s an opportunity for him to see me grow from a player to a coach and now to here.”
Pastner signed a five-year, $4.4 million contract with Memphis.
“It sounded like he was 10 feet off the floor,” Olson said of the phone call. “He said, ‘We’re going to play basketball like coach Calipari played and like we played at Arizona.’ He’s just really, really excited. He said, ‘I don’t care if I was the eighth guy they wanted, I’m just happy that I’m here.’”
In the past week, several former teammates of Pastner from the 1997 UA national championship team began going public with their desire for him to take over at UA.
“I will be supporting (new UA coach) Sean Miller and cheering him on,” former UA star and current Dallas Mavericks star Jason Terry told the Citizen in an e-mail sent by his publicist.
“. . . I still believe we missed out on a huge opportunity by not hiring Josh Pastner. The timing was right and he has ‘Wildcat blood.’ Maybe in seven years the timing will be right again and they give me or another Wildcat a chance to carry on Papa Lute’s Legacy. Bear Down.”
Pastner said he was packing for Kentucky to follow Calipari, who was hired there last week, as his top recruiter when an unexpected call came from Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson.
“There was no hesitation,” Pastner said.
“He gave me the opportunity and I jumped on it.”
Pastner moved to Memphis after six years as an assistant at Arizona and as a walk-on player before that.
“I believe in myself,” he said. “I’ve prepared myself my whole life for this. . .
“I was 42 or 43 and zero as a player (at UA). And I tell people, ‘You know how hard that is?’ But I only got in games when we were up 20 or more.”
Pastner said he hadn’t started working on selecting assistants.
During his time under Olson, Arizona averaged 23 victories a season and made six straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
Memphis went 33-4 last season and made it to the NCAA regional semifinals.
Olson was asked if he thought Pastner would do a good job.
“I think he will,” Olson said. “I always worry a little bit when guys get into that situation when they’ve had a limited amount of head coaching experience, but he’s full speed ahead.”
The Associated Press and Citizen sportswriter Geoff Grammer contributed to this article.
By Citizen Staff Report, Wire Report