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Ex-Cat Pastner will follow Calipari to Kentucky

Citizen Staff Writer



Josh Pastner has grown fond of March 31.

When the date showed up on the calendar in 1997, the University of Arizona walk-on guard watched as his team took down perennial power Kentucky for college basketball’s national championship.

When it rolled around Tuesday, Pastner, an assistant coach for the past season at Memphis after eight seasons at UA, learned he will follow head coach John Calipari to help rebuild Kentucky into a national power.

“I’m just very fortunate, very blessed,” Pastner said in a telephone interview from Memphis on Tuesday night. “(Calipari) is the boss man and I’m following him there. It’s exciting because that is probably the most storied program in college basketball.”

Calipari, who hired Pastner after the 2007-08 season from UA, will receive an eight-year, $31.65 million deal plus incentives at Kentucky, the university said, making him the highest-paid coach in college basketball. The school also will pay Memphis a $200,000 buyout.

For Pastner, who hopes to be a head coach one day, the news adds to a dream scenario of assistant coaching opportunities.

“I was so fortunate to be at Arizona, one of the great schools of all time,” said Pastner. “I was able to learn so much from Lute Olson, one of the great coaches of all time. Last year, I worked under Kevin O’Neill, who was able to work under Jeff Van Gundy, and then this year at Memphis, I was able to work with Cal (Calipari). The guy is the best coach in the game, period. NBA, college, anywhere, he is the best in the game.”

The 50-year-old Calipari had been rumored to be at or near the top of Arizona’s coaching wish list since Olson stepped down Oct. 24 after 25 years of building the program.

Calipari has a 445-140 record in 17 seasons, including a 137-14 mark over the past four years.

Pastner said he wouldn’t speak for Calipari about the UA coaching situation, but said Olson’s permanent successor will be a lucky man.

“I think any coach would be attracted to that job,” Pastner said. “No doubt UA is going to get a great coach. You’re always pulling for your alma mater and I was very blessed to be there for 12 years. I still call it home.”

Outgoing UA coach Russ Pennell, who served this past season as interim coach, said Tuesday that his coaching future and that of UA’s next coach would depend largely on how soon the Kentucky/Calipari deal was finalized.

“I think a lot of guys in coaching right now are waiting to see how everything trickles down (from Kentucky),” Pennell said. “Everyone is sitting there watching the Kentucky thing and seeing what happens from there.”

Pennell warned that Arizona basketball will have some rebuilding to do over the next several years, primarily in the recruiting circles, where Calipari has excelled for years.

“If they could have got John Calipari,” Pennell joked, “they probably could have got two good ones (players), but that’s another story.”

The Kentucky job opened up last week when the school fired Billy Gillispie after two disappointing seasons.

Hoping to make a big splash after Gillispie’s tenure, Kentucky reportedly went deep into its pockets to land one of the nation’s most high-profile coaches.

Calipari’s deal would eclipse the $3.5 million average salary of Florida’s Billy Donovan and dwarf those of Calipari’s predecessors Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and Gillispie.

Pastner avoided the monetary details of his move to Kentucky.

“I don’t ever worry about the money thing because I don’t let money control me,” Pastner said. “Live in the moment and live in the day. . . . Money comes and goes.”

Pitino, the coach at rival Louisville, never made more than $2 million a season during his successful eight-year run at Kentucky.

Smith’s compensation neared $2.1 million at the end of his decade with the program and Gillispie received a base salary of $2.3 million, with $750,000 available in incentives.

Calipari already was one of the highest-paid coaches in the country, signing an extension with Memphis last year that paid him $2.35 million annually.

Memphis had promised to match whatever Kentucky offered, but the Wildcats have one thing Memphis doesn’t: the opportunity to coach in a top-flight conference at college basketball’s winningest program.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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