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Monday, April 06, 2009

Analysts say Tigers made wise pick

Analysts say Tigers made wise pick
Pastner has right skills to be successful coach
By Scott Cacciola, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Originally published 10:08 p.m., April 6, 2009
Updated 10:27 p.m., April 6, 2009

Upon hearing that Josh Pastner, at the ripe age of 31, had been promoted to head coach by the University of Memphis, Fran Fraschilla made an analogy.

"It's like the baseball draft, where you can draft a guy who has three or four years of college experience, or you can draft the young phenom out of high school and hope he turns into a superstar," said Fraschilla, the ESPN analyst and former coach. "I think Memphis has a young, rising star."

Long regarded as a Wunderkind, as a clipboard-toting and film-studying prodigy even during his playing days at Arizona, Pastner now has the sort of opportunity he craved since he first started coaching -- at age 16. And if some of the talking heads, to borrow a phrase, consider the hire a calculated risk, they also see it as one with tremendous upside.

"I think Memphis used great judgment, and I salute them for making this choice," said Jimmy Dykes, the ESPN broadcaster. "The players at Arizona were petitioning for him to get the job out there, so that tells you what players think of him."

That has been the trend ever since Pastner, as a high school student, coached the Houston Hoops AAU team. He walked on at Arizona, largely because he wanted to learn from then-coach Lute Olson. As a member of Arizona's 1997 national championship team, Pastner scored 12 points all season. But his contributions were immense, according to former teammate Miles Simon. He broke down film. He scouted opponents. He coached his teammates.

"He was instrumental in getting myself, Michael Dickerson, Mike Bibby into the gym late at night, rebounding for us," Simon said. "He just wanted us to get better, and he was absolutely one of the keys to our championship run."

In college basketball circles, Pastner has earned a reputation as a relentless recruiter, first at Arizona, where he was an assistant for six seasons, and then at Memphis, where he was brought aboard by John Calipari last summer. He has strong ties in Texas and the Southwest.

"Given his pedigree at Arizona and Memphis, he knows the formula," Fraschilla said. "He understands how Memphis works, how they'll need to rebuild. And one thing I'm totally sure of is that he'll continue to get great players. As my friend Bob Davie likes to say, 'It's not the Xs and Os, it's the Jimmys and the Joes.' And Josh will continue to get the Jimmys and the Joes."

Said Dykes: "He's known ever since he was young that he wanted to be a coach, and he's studied under some of the best. The only problem he's going to have is he's going to go from making suggestions to making decisions. But I think he'll grow into that job."

Pete Gillen, an analyst for CBS College Sports Network and Westwood One, said recruiting is "85-90 percent of the battle," especially at a Conference USA program such as Memphis. But Gillen said he also has been impressed by Pastner's basketball acumen.

"I love Josh," Gillen said. "It's a big first job, and it's a tough act to follow Calipari. But I have a lot of confidence in him."

Asked whether Pastner's age could affect the way players respond to him, Gillen said: "I think it's an advantage. He can relate to them, he speaks their language, the music they like. I think it's a good choice. It's a surprise when you first hear it, but I think it's a great choice."

Fraschilla recalled being at an AAU tournament when he first met Pastner, who was a junior in high school at the time. Pastner introduced himself to Fraschilla and informed him that he would be a college coach someday. Pastner was so confident and forceful, Fraschilla never doubted him -- and never forgot him.

But experience counts for something, and Fraschilla said Pastner would benefit by hiring some seasoned assistants.

"It helps to have someone who's been through the adversity of coaching and understands when to calm down a young guy," Fraschilla said. "I think that always helps. But knowing Josh's background, this is a perfect fit for him."

-- Scott Cacciola: 529-2773

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