Memphis coach Josh Pastner is congratulated by teammates after they beat the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
USA Today, our Gannett partner, has had some excellent college basketball coverage lately, including this feature on former Arizona Wildcat player and assistant Josh Pastner, the head coach at Memphis. Worth a read …
BY ERIC PRISBELL
USA TODAY SPORTS
MEMPHIS — When anybody asked Josh Pastner five years ago about working under John Calipari, the then-Memphis assistant offered the same emphatic response: “The guy who follows this guy, you are literally crazy. You can’t do it. You have to be a nutjob to even think about it.”
As Calipari pursues a second national title at Kentucky, Pastner now finds himself in the fifth season of a job that he himself deemed impossible. What college basketball fans find at Memphis is a 36-year-old coach whose evolution is playing out amid a shadow cast by a man who established an almost unreachable standard.
It is a career path that even Lute Olson, Pastner’s mentor who coached him at Arizona, did not believe was best. Olson told USA TODAY Sports that the ideal path for Pastner would have been for him to work as an assistant under Calipari a few more years before taking a mid-level head coaching job that would have allowed him to grow into the job without the pressure and expectations that exist at Memphis.
“Memphis is a big-time program,” Olson told USA TODAY Sports. “Taking over at 31, I just think he’s handled it very well, but that’s a tough way to go … It was a huge challenge, and I really was hoping he would get maybe another couple years as an assistant.”
The basketball-crazed city of Memphis applauded Sunday’s victory against Oklahoma State in the Old Spice Classic title game, just Pastner’s second career victory against a team ranked in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll. And though he embraces the challenge of replacing Calipari, who won 91% of his games and advanced to two Elite Eights and one national title game his final four years, has been every bit as formidable as Pastner expected.