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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Dan Wolken - The Josh Pastner phenomenon

The Josh Pastner phenomenon
Posted by Dan Wolken

By every measure, this city should be suffering a severe John Calipari hangover right now. When the most successful coach in the history of the school leaves for Kentucky and takes at least parts of the greatest recruiting class in history with him, you’d expect the mood about Tiger basketball right now to be somewhere between depression and disinterest.

Yet, what I’ve perceived and observed around town over the last 10 days has been exactly the opposite. In so many small ways, it’s almost like the fervor and interest in this program has never been higher.

I just got back from the meet-and-greet with Josh Pastner for Tiger Scholarship Fund donors, and I was stunned at the turnout and what people were talking about. They held it in the Tower Room restaurant at the top of the Clark Tower, and the place was absolutely packed. You couldn’t find a place to stand in the main room, so they directed people to the other rooms and had them watch the presentation on televisions. Afterwards, I talked to Bill Lansden, who runs the TSF program, and asked how many donors they had lost since Calipari’s departure. “Just one,” Lansden said. Think about that. In nearly three weeks since Calipari left, the TSF people have been communicating with their donors to see where they stand on season tickets for next year. Only one has said for sure that he would not renew his seats for 2009-10 because Calipari isn’t here anymore. Obviously, the checks aren’t due yet, so Memphis may lose some more. But it doesn’t appear that there will be a mass exodus of support.

What’s going on out there? Why are people - even at a potentially low point for the program - still so fired up about Tiger basketball?

My sense is that there’s an element of freshness - unique to Josh Pastner - that people in Memphis are buying into. It’s his youth, it’s his energy, it’s his positive approach and the way he presents himself. But I think it’s also the clean break that Pastner represents –not just from Calipari himself but also from the era of cynisism in Tiger basketball. No more snarky comments about train tracks. No more poor-mouthing about how you’re not allowed to lose a game. In Josh Pastner’s world, there are no “Miserables.”

Now, we’ll see how this all plays out next April if the Tigers struggle next season. The attitude about Pastner may be different. But I can’t imagine anyone else Memphis could have hired generating the kind of enthusiasm and interest that Pastner already has in his first two weeks on the job.

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