Ex-Arizona coach, players have mixed emotions of Wildcats facing Pastnerby Javier Morales on Mar. 13, 2011, under Sports
Former Arizona assistant coach Jim Rosborough, who coached Josh Pastner and later coached with him on Lute Olson‘s staff, knows all about the effervescent, popular young leader of the Memphis basketball program.
What he knows concerns him about Pastner and the job he must undertake Friday against his alma mater in the NCAA Tournament West Regional first-round game in Tulsa.
“(The selection) was kind of dirty to Josh,” Rosborough told me. “From his standpoint, he has to be really protective of his time. Everybody will want to talk to him.
“He may or may not say no. Knowing him, he may try to talk, but he has to realize how important it is to be prepared for a game like this. When I first saw Arizona vs. Memphis on the screen, my first thought was Josh would get calls and texts from everyone.”
Pastner’s former UA teammate Eugene Edgerson Tweeted that he has already tried to call Pastner. He messaged Miles Simon on Twitter: “How bad do you think Josh wants to win his tourney (game) against us?”
Another former UA teammate John Ash, a walk-on like Pastner when they were with the Wildcats 15 years ago, sent the Memphis coach a text message after the the selection was announced Sunday on CBS. Jawann McClellan, a Houston native like Pastner, who played for Pastner at Arizona, texted him Saturday night to congratulate him for winning the Conference USA tournament.
That is just a very small sample.
“I sent him a text but I won’t call him,” said Ash, who now works in commercial real estate in Tucson. “Like with some of my NBA friends (Richard Jefferson among them), I wait until the off-season to give them a call.
“But I don’t think any distraction will be a concern for Josh. I am pretty close to Josh. He is so disciplined and on target. No doubt in my mind that all that (distraction) will be secondary. He will go into the game with precision and he will push his guys the right way.”
McClellan and Ash said they have mixed emotions of cheering against a Pastner-coached team, but blood runs thicker than water, as the saying goes.
“I know how hard Josh worked to get Memphis (25-9) into the tournament, but I don’t want to see Arizona lose,” McClellan told me. “You know, I don’t want to see Josh lose, too, but I have to roll with my alma mater.”
McClellan has a different relationship with Pastner than most of Pastner’s former Wildcat players and teammates. They share a Houston past — “I’ve known him since I was little and he was in high school,” McClellan said — and Pastner served as a big-brother figure to him.
After McClellan’s freshman season, when his father passed away, McClellan and Pastner grew closer.
“He was one of the main reasons I stayed at Arizona,” said McClellan, who contemplated a return to Houston after losing his father. “He flew to my dad’s funeral during the middle of recruiting season. That’s the kind of person he is.
“I always looked at him as a coach who looked out for me. Our age gap is not that great (Pastner is 33 and McClellan 25). He always stayed on top of me with my academics. He is not a coach who once you get there stops caring for you.”
Ash said coaching against Arizona will not adversely affect Pastner, despite Pastner’s love for the UA and Tucson.
Pastner has a legion of friends and supporters who work at McKale Center. He met his wife, the former Kerri Lamas, while coaching at Arizona. She is a Buena High School graduate. He told the Memphis media Sunday that he hoped the Tigers would be placed in the Tucson subregional.
“Josh coaching against Arizona definitely creates some drama,” said Ash, who at first wondered if former UA director of athletics Jim Livengood had something to do with the matchup.
“It makes for a good narrative, a good story. But I look at this as really exciting. It adds an element of pressure for Josh, but I think this will be great for both programs. Sean Miller obviously has Arizona headed in the right direction.”
Ash added that the scenario is a “lose-lose and win-win situation.”
“Obviously, Arizona winning and advancing would be great for the community,” he said. “I’m a Tucson native. The University of Arizona is my team, but I want Josh to be successful as well.”
Strategically, Rosborough and McClellan believe Pastner should hold up well against Arizona.
“I’ve noticed that Memphis’ games have been in the 60s, so he’s apparently trying to control tempo and have his young guys stop jacking up threes,” Rosborough said of the Tigers, who have seven freshmen and four sophomores.
“I believe it will be an intriguing, fair matchup. I guess you should ask a guy like (Arizona football coach Mike) Stoops who had to coach against (his alma mater) Iowa. He was able to control his feelings going into the game (won this season by Arizona).”
McClellan, an assistant coach at Houston Yates High School, has followed Memphis most of the season because of Pastner.
“People don’t realize the job he’s doing with such a young team,” McClellan said. “He’s competing with a bunch of 18- and 19-year-old players against teams that play guys 20 and 21. He’s doing a great job.
“I sent him a text about that (Saturday).”
Chances are, that was one of many.