By Jon Rothstein
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Josh Pastner’s voice mail isn’t the norm.
The baby-faced Memphis coach is sometimes more like the self-help section of a Barnes & Noble than he is a drill sergeant ready to wreak havoc with a whistle around his neck.
Dial Pastner’s cell phone and you’ll hear the following if he doesn’t pick up — “As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, for every minute you are angry, you give up 60 seconds of peace of mind”.
Synonymous with Pastner’s personality? No question.
And it is that mindset and that positive approach that has allowed the 35-year-old to effectively navigate the gauntlet of Memphis’ alumni, boosters, and season ticket holders as he enters his fourth season as the program’s leader.
Chosen in the spring of 2009 to succeed John Calipari as Tigers head coach after Calipari left Beale Street for Kentucky, Pastner has taken Memphis to two NCAA Tournaments in three seasons and put together several top recruiting classes. But he’s not Calipari —- and he’ll be the first one to tell you so.
“He’s (Calipari) the only coach in America that can take over any program and in a year have them in the Top 25,” said Pastner, who was an assistant under Calipari for a season before being promoted to head coach. “I used to tell people all the time that the guy who follows Cal here is crazy. There’s a reason why no one wanted this job and everyone was turning it down. Cal won 137 games in his last four seasons here. No one in the history of college basketball had a run like him. Not John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, or Coach K. No one.”
Pastner was set to join Calipari at Kentucky as an assistant before being offered his current post. Shocked, elated, and anxious when he realized he was going to be a head coach at just 31, Pastner did what he does best —- work — but not without making sure people knew the situation he was about to inherit.
“I tried to get people around here to understand that no one ever did what Cal did,” Pastner said in reference to Calipari’s final four seasons at Memphis. “I’ve tried to piggyback off the success he had and just attempt to keep it going.”
And he has.
Under Pastner’s watch Memphis has remained a major player in recruiting. The Tigers haven’t had a Derrick Rose or a Tyreke Evans like Calipari did, but they have had several Top 100 recruits and last season’s star Will Barton was drafted by Portland in the second round of June’s NBA Draft. Elliot Williams, another one of Pastner’s players was drafted 22nd overall in 2010.
Moving forward, Memphis has locked up four Top 100 prospects for the Class of 2013 in Kuran Iverson, Nick King, Rashawn Powell, and Austin Nichols, who committed to Pastner on Monday. Nichols, Iverson, and King are ranked in the Top 30 of most recruiting services.
“Josh has done a very good job at Memphis,” Calipari said of Pastner. “He’s kept them relevant and he’s kept their recruiting at a high level.”
And that’s something that will be paramount now that the Tigers are heading to a BCS league after the upcoming season. For years Memphis has dominated Conference-USA but the Big East, which the Tigers will join after this season, will be an entirely different animal even with the departures of heavyweights like Syracuse, Pitt, and Notre Dame.
With Pastner leading the charge, the Tigers are positioned to regularly land big time talents like Iverson, Nichols, and King and should be able to compete with anybody in the country for players.
The reputation for being a ferocious recruiter has gotten Pastner to where he is in the business. Before he was married, Pastner once took a call from a recruit when he was out to a movie with a date.
“She wasn’t thrilled,” Pastner said. “But we wound up getting the kid.”
The Big East should bring out the best in Pastner and Memphis but there’s still work to be done before they get there. This group of Tigers is more seasoned than any other group Pastner has had at Memphis and they appear to have all the requisites to hopefully do what they’ve yet to do under their current coach — advance in the NCAA Tournament. Memphis lost a one possession game in 2011 to Arizona and lost by seven to Saint Louis last March.
“We’ve got guys that are older now,” Pastner said. “We’ve got juniors that have had some success and played in March. There’s a lot to be said for that.”
Memphis could presumably have one of the more balanced starting fives in college basketball. Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Adonis Thomas, Tarik Black, and Ferrakohn Hall are all savvy players that have the ability to average in double figures. Veteran guard Antonio Barton is a solid reserve off the bench and newcomers Geron Johnson and Shaq Goodwin should play rotation minutes immediately.
“This is the first year where all the kids here are guys that I’ve recruited,” Pastner said. “The expectations are always going to be high here, but I really feel more comfortable now than I ever have entering a season as a head coach.”
Your prediction for Pastner’s bunch this season? Be heard in the comments below!