Tigers' new assistants cram like freshmen
Antigua, Pastner recruit, but dribble-drive takes time
By Dan Wolken, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Sunday, November 2, 2008
While the first two weeks of practice have been crucial for six first-year players on the University of Memphis roster, it's been just as educational for two other newcomers looking to make an impact on the program.
Though assistant coaches Orlando Antigua and Josh Pastner didn't need much tutoring to start quickly on the recruiting trail, they have spent most of their on-court time so far doing more observing than teaching.
"I do as much listening as the freshmen on the team just to get a grasp of everything," said Antigua, who came from Pittsburgh, his alma mater.
Likewise, Pastner has spent the opening weeks of the season trying to get a feel for the Tigers' personnel and coach John Calipari's unorthodox style of offense after spending the past seven years at his alma mater, Arizona.
"For me, it's been like a clinic in the sense that I've been able to learn and pick things up," Pastner said. "Every day you're just being a sponge."
The way Calipari structures his coaching staff, Antigua and Pastner were hired primarily to do the groundwork on recruiting, while John Robic, who has been with the Tigers for four seasons, specializes in scouting opponents and building gameplans.
So far, it's been a good fit, with Antigua working his home base in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast and Pastner getting the Tigers involved with players on the West Coast and in Texas.
Already, Antigua has been crucial in recruiting big man Will Coleman and sharpshooter Darnell Dodson from Miami-Dade Junior College Antigua recruited both of them while at Pittsburgh while Pastner helped get a commitment from top-50 shooting guard Nolan Dennis.
Antigua said he's seen little difference in recruiting a player from the Northeast to Memphis as opposed to Pittsburgh. Pastner, in fact, recruited many of the same players or knew them through AAU teammates.
"Memphis is very similar to Arizona," Pastner said. "You're recruiting elite-level players and guys from different backgrounds and everything else. I think guys here compete as hard and play as hard as anybody in the country. They get after each other, and I think it's great. Competition breeds excellence because when guys have to compete and push each other, that's when they really start to get to an elite level."
But for all the recruiting success Antigua and Pastner anticipate having at Memphis, the primary reason both left their alma maters was to boost their resumes by learning Calipari's dribble-drive offense, which helped Tony Barbee (UTEP), Derek Kellogg (UMass) and Chuck Martin (Marist) all land head-coaching jobs.
During the mayhem of the summer recruiting period, Calipari brought in Pastner and Antigua for intense cram sessions on the Tigers' dribble-drive offense. Even so, he doesn't expect them to pick it up right away.
"Until they watch me do it and for a year, it's hard," Calipari said. "John Robic can throw stuff in, but they just don't know it yet. They know it, but not to the level of being confident to step in there where Derek and Chuck did. Chuck didn't say anything for a year. John Robic didn't say anything for a year. He was just silent, like, 'I don't know what to say.' But I can count on those guys to do (other things)."
Pastner and Antigua have had the added task of bonding with the players, which isn't necessarily as easy as it sounds. Assistant coaches often develop deep relationships with the players they recruit and become sounding-boards later on.
Though there was some crossover -- Antigua, for instance, knew Jeff Robinson and Tyreke Evans when they were coming up in the Philadelphia area -- there has been an adjustment period on both sides of the equation.
"You develop relationships with them, you show them you care about them, you follow up," Antigua said. "So there's a timeframe of trying to show them that you're going to be vested in them and that's kind of what you have to do when you're on a new staff."
From the players' perspective, it's taken some time too.
"They're cool guys but there's nobody like our coaching staff last year. That's a cool coaching staff right there," junior forward Pierre Henderson-Niles said. "They're gone to a better place, though, so we have to get used to them. They're not going to jump right in, be like, you do this, you do that. They're just like some of the freshmen. They have to get used to us."
Calipari knew that bringing in two assistant coaches at once would be a difficult transition in some ways. That's why he took the unusual approach of bringing Pastner and Antigua in together for their interviews as a way to gauge how the new staff might function.
So far, he's pleased with the results.
"We walked together, we ate together, talked to them together," Calipari said. "I wanted to make sure. The most important thing for me is family. I don't want one guy thinking, 'I've got to get this one, you've got to get this one, it's my recruit, your recruit.' I don't do it that way. We all recruit everybody. We need everybody in this thing together, and they hit it off."
No. 13 Tigers vs. CBU
What: The U of M's lone exhibition game before the regular-season opener Nov. 15
When, where: 7 p.m. Tuesday at FedExForum
Radio: WEGR-FM (102.7)
The new guys
Last job: Five years as an assistant at Pittsburgh
Noteworthy: In 1995, Antigua started a seven-year stint as the first Latin American player on the Harlem Globetrotters.
Last job: Six years as an assistant at Arizona
Noteworthy: Earned bachelor's degree in family studies in just 21/2 years, faster than any other Arizona student-athlete.
Reach Dan Wolken at 529-2365; read his blogs on the Tigers at thememphisedge.com.