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Friday, May 09, 2008

Mike DeCourcy - The revolving door on Arizona's bench opens up questions

The revolving door on Arizona's bench opens up questions
Posted: May 8, 2008

If you purchase a share of stock, you do so because you believe the price is going to increase. But the person who sells it to you does so believing the price is headed downward. That's pretty much how the market works, billions of times per day.

So is Josh Pastner selling high by leaving Arizona?

Or is Mike Dunlap buying low by climbing aboard?

It would seem one has to be mistaken in this exchange. Either Arizona is a program a red-hot coaching prospect must abandon -- or it's a prime opportunity for a qualified coach to advance his career. It can't be both. Can it?

Pastner, 30, has spent the past dozen years with the Wildcats, first as an end-of-the-bench player mostly prepping for his impending coaching career, then as a rising young assistant gradually expanding his influence under Hall of Fame head coach Lute Olson.

Dunlap, 50, has spent his career building a reputation as a superior tactician and clinician -- an elite teacher of the game -- but always has seemed beyond reach of Division I programs. He won two Division II national championships at Denver's Metro State but, despite persistently being presented as a "hot" candidate never wound up taking a major-college job. He instead spent the past two seasons as an assistant with the NBA's Denver Nuggets.

Both of these coaches would be coveted to fill staff positions in just about any major program that had an opening.

With his reputation as a dogged worker with unrelenting energy, Pastner had the opportunity to leave for Kentucky a year ago. He was offered a high-paying job on the staff of then-new coach Billy Gillispie. Pastner decided to stay at Arizona -- but he wound up in a tumultuous situation as Olson took a year's leave of absence, Kevin O'Neill took over as interim coach and the team fought through an abundance of injuries and an absurdly difficult schedule to reach the NCAA Tournament. It was a hard year.

When Memphis' John Calipari came along offering the chance to serve as the lead recruiter for a big-time program in more stable circumstances, the timing seemed right. Pastner can learn from another elite coach in the way Cincinnati's Mick Cronin did, leaving Bob Huggins' staff to work for Rick Pitino. And Calipari has done an excellent job of helping assistants move into head coaching positions -- including Chuck Martin (Marist) and Derek Kellogg (Massachusetts) just this spring.

For Dunlap to accept the position as associate head coach at Arizona appears riskier. Olson is 73 and had to take this past year off because of what he subsequently said was a health issue. Although Dunlap certainly is qualified to merit such a consideration, it would be untenable to definitively promise him a spot as Olson's eventual successor. And how much would it be worth anyway, such a promise already was made -- and broken -- to O'Neill.

So Dunlap arrives with the chance to help restore some sense of order to a program that has endured personnel problems almost annually for the past five years: rampant selfishness, frequent discipline problems, dreadful attention to detail and, this past year, a shortage of high-level talent. If the Wildcats become a more cohesive outfit with Dunlap on their bench, it's likely his presence will be noted by the headhunters who need to match job openings with qualified candidates -- and that they'll be able to sell Dunlap to athletic directors needing to "win the press conference."

It can't have felt secure on the Nuggets' bench as they were swept out of the NBA playoffs in the first round. So Dunlap's move comes at an ideal time for him.

It may appear Pastner's departure sends one more signal Arizona's stock is crumbling, but at least someone sharp sees fit to buy.

Mike DeCourcy is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at

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