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Corky Simpson COLUMN

Pastner rides the pine again – this time as a coach for Wildcats

Joshua Paul Pastner is without a doubt.

It’s one of the reasons he has earned a permanent spot in the hearts of Tucson sports fans.

Supremely confident, friendly as a puppy and totally dedicated on and off the court, Josh is one of the unique characters in the history of Arizona basketball.

Best of all, he’ll be back next season – as an undergraduate assistant coach.

Keep an eye on this kid. He’ll coach an NCAA champion one day, or an NBA champ. Or both.

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m really happy to be coming back, and the opportunity I have is just awesome,” Pastner said. “I am truly blessed.”

So is the Wildcat basketball program.

What can you say about a guy who averaged 0.9 point per game over a four-year career and became one of the most unforgettable Wildcats of all time?

Nobody recruited him, so Josh recruited himself.

“I sent letters to every Division I school in America, every Division II and III school and every NAIA school, selling myself,” he said.

“The only one that bought on it was Arizona. I met coach (Lute) Olson and coach (Jim) Rosborough in the summer.”

The rest is . . . amazing.

Pastner didn’t come here as a player, but as a coach. For four years, he practiced, traveled and suited up for games.

But his real contribution was to teach his teammates to shoot, play defense, rebound and all the other aspects of the game. They accepted Josh’s coaching because, like everyone else who has met him, they quickly learned that this is someone very special.

Getting by on three or four hours’ sleep a night, he practiced with the team, helped break down film, made public appearances with the rest of the squad and studied hard enough that he earned a bachelor’s degree in 2 1/2 years.

During the past season, his final year of eligibility, he already had a master’s degree and was working toward a doctorate.

He won an NCAA championship ring and the two degrees while picking up priceless on-the-job experience.

“Winning the national championship in 1997 was my biggest moment,” Pastner said, “but not the most important thing that has happened to me at Arizona.

“I treasure even more the friends I have met. That’s something you take with you forever.

“I cherish our win over Kentucky for the NCAA championship, but I cherish even more the relationships with coaches and players and all the other friends I have made.”

Rosborough, associate head coach of the Wildcats, said Josh will be “another pair of eyes for us . . . this will be a straight-out coaching position, and we’re lucky to have him.”

“Josh will be an outstanding head coach some day,” Rosborough added. “He’s very good, and this assignment will be great preparation for him.”

Right now, it appears Josh will focus on offensive rebounding.

“He’s organized, and he runs probably the best summer AAU program in the country,” Rosborough said. “He goes home to Houston, Texas, and practices his kids, then sends them up against some of the very best high school coaches, guys in charge of the other AAU programs.”

A fan favorite, Pastner says one of his fondest memories as a player was his final game.

“We beat California at home to win the Pac-10, I got in, and I hit a ‘three.’ What more could you ask for?”

The funniest thing that happened to him as a Wildcat?

“We were in Oregon, waiting for our bags at the airport, and all of a sudden on the carousel here comes Bennett Davison.

“Somebody had dared him to do it, and he rode that carousel all the way through baggage claim. It was hilarious.”

Pastner has never smoked or consumed alcohol, and he doesn’t even drink soda pop.

“I try to do the right thing, and I believe in practicing what you preach,” he said.

He hasn’t avoided criticism in the media, taking a sniper’s shot in the back for appearing to come on a little strong.

“He may seem impetuous, but he’s just very goal-oriented,” Rosborough said.

“Not many 22-year-old kids have done what Josh has done and gained the same experience. He’s energetic and bright, and we are very lucky to have him.”

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