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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kevin Scarbinsky -- The Birmingham News "Not everyone in Memphis hates Calipari"

Scarbinsky: Not everyone in Memphis hates Calipari
By Kevin Scarbinsky -- The Birmingham News
March 19, 2010, 5:30AM

I found him. He’s as rare as Bigfoot, and some people think he’s a myth, but I actually found him.

There really is one person in the city of Memphis who doesn’t want John Calipari to crash and burn as soon as possible in the NCAA Tournament, then later in a much hotter environment.

It’s Josh Pastner.

You know, the guy who worked for Calipari as a Memphis assistant and then, after Cal broke the city’s heart by leaving for Kentucky, became the Memphis head coach.

Talked to Pastner on Thursday for another story to come later in the tournament. He had nothing but good things to say about his old boss.

"I wouldn’t be the head coach here at Memphis without Coach Cal," Pastner said. "He brought me here.

"I learned so much from him. I loved working for him, he was great to me and I have great respect for him."

How does Pastner expect to make it big with that attitude?

He sounds as nice as Murry Bartow, who got a shot at Calipari but missed Thursday night as Kentucky looked very much like a No. 1 seed in its 100-71 stretching exercise against East Tennessee.

I suggested last year, when Alabama was searching for a head basketball coach, that it could follow the Nick Saban model and go after Calipari.

You could say that each is the best at what he does. (And Pastner did say that, at least about Calipari.)

"Coach Cal is probably the best coach in the college game today," Pastner said. "Period. If not the best, you could say him and Bill Self are the top two.

"Cal’s very, very, very good."

You also could say that there are people in college basketball that don’t like Calipari just as there are people in college football that don’t like Saban.

Cal has become the Tark the Shark of his time.

All of that gives Memphis basketball fans a lot in common with LSU football fans.

They each watched a coach take them to giddy heights, only to drop them flat to go do the same thing somewhere else.

At least Saban had the decency to spend two years in NFL purgatory before returning to the SEC.

My friend Geoff Calkins, the fine columnist for the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, wrote this week, "It’s time that we, as a city of diverse people, come together to pull for one thing.

"Kentucky, falling flat. John Calipari, choking."

Calkins could run for mayor on that single-issue platform and win in a landslide.

LSU football fans had it worse than Memphis basketball fans because LSU football fans had to watch Saban beat their team en route to the national title.

But, in another way, Memphis basketball fans may suffer even more for the next three weeks. They have to watch Calipari dribble-drive toward the Final Four with their players.

At one time or another, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe all looked like they were headed to Memphis.

Give Pastner just one of them, and his Tigers wouldn’t be preparing for a second-round game in the NIT.

They’d be playing in the Bigger Dance.

That said, Pastner can’t bring himself to wish ill will upon the coach he assisted and the players he recruited.

He’s too nice a guy, and Calipari meant too much to his career.

"My focus is for us to win as many games as we can," Pastner said, "but I’m rooting for ..."

He paused, perhaps feeling the pulse of the city pounding in his ears.

"I think Kentucky and Kansas are the two best teams, so to be honest with you, I think those two are in the championship game, and it’s a complete toss-up."

There are major differences, starting with age and experience, between the old and new Memphis coaches.

Here’s one more:

If the No. 1 recruiting class in America he’s already signed leads Memphis to next year’s Final Four, it’ll be hard to find anyone — outside of the UAB family — pulling against Pastner.

Or, as a Memphis fan might say, good can come from evil after all.

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