How the legend of Josh Pastner was born
By Ben Hansen
Since he arrived at Arizona as a walk-on fresh man in 1996-97, UA assistant coach Josh Pastner has been described as many things.
Among the adjectives used to portray Pastner, tireless, relentless, overachieving, driven and successful fall into the positive column.
On the flip side, he has been illustrated by his critics as being ostentatious, brazen and even annoying – a characterization which likely stems from Pastner's constant hamming it up for television cameras during Arizona's run to the 1997 NCAA national championship when he appeared on TV jumping up and down nearly as often as star players Miles Simon and Michael Dickerson.
Much of Pastner's story is known by now, including that he earned his degree in record time by taking as many as 30 units in a semester. But the fascinating aspects of his life mostly took place pre-Arizona, as his father, Hal Pastner recounts below.
--Josh has been focused and driven to succeed in the game of basketball since he was in elementary school," Hal Pastner said. "He immersed himself throughout his school years reading every book about the game and studying all aspects of basketball. He was never fast, quick, or could jump but he worked very hard and many days throughout high school would stay in the gym even after the lights were out until the maintenance crew kicked him out since they had to go home.
"As we traveled the summer basketball circuit with our team the Houston Hoops Josh would stay in the gym from morning until the end of games. He would study the players from teams around the country and his excitement was when he spotted a young man who he believed was going to be a great player that no one knew. He wrote scouting reports at the age of 13 or 14 and sent them out to college coaches writing about the players he would watch throughout the summer. At that time, college coaches were not allowed at most of the tournaments.
"We continually received calls and letters from schools wanting to order the "Josh Pastner Scouting Report" and I would tell the schools this is my 13 year old son and the report is free. Josh would sit in the gyms for hours and pick the brains of every head coach during the "live" (open to college coaches for evaluating players) recruiting period when he was young to learn all he could.
"It became evident to me when he was 16 that he would succeed as a college coach as I turned over our Houston Hoops AAU program to him. He had the respect of every player - many who ended up in the NBA and most of them were the same age or older than him. He handled travel arrangements, hotels, practices, the problems with players, etc. All that was necessary in running a successful program, he did it. His years of being a head coach for the Houston Hoops at the level we played were a valuable experience. When he was very young we would travel into the remote communities in Texas hearing about a player and meeting their Moms and Dads in their homes to recruit them talking about the positives of playing with the Houston Hoops. In 1999, he coached a team comprised of Emeka Okafor, TJ Ford, Lawrence Roberts, Marcus Spears (1st round pick of the Cowboys who could have been an NBA player too) and Carlos Hurt (who I still believe was one of the greatest high school players I've seen). Josh won the Global Championships in Oregon with this squad on a buzzer shot and I was so happy for him and the kids since I knew how much they wanted to win.
"I'll never forget the tournament we played in Lafayette Indiana (1993) on Purdue's campus and we went to the championship game and Josh was a player on my 16under team that I coached. I really didn't play Josh much because we were at such a high level and he was a good high school player but not at the level we played in the summer. Anyway Stephen Woods (SMU guard) and Will Smith (LaBradford's cousin and UTEP guard) went down with cramps and I had to put Josh in the championship game at point guard with a minute to go against the Illinois Warriors who had three future NBA players on their squad. The night before, Gerald Brown, who is now playing in Europe and Stephen Jackson (now with the Pacers) and Josh came to me and said how badly they wanted to win since they had really never experienced a championship on the national level. Well in overtime with 20 seconds to go and a one point lead and Josh as the only healthy point guard left he was pressured in the backcourt and called for traveling. Illinois got the ball and scored. I called time out and I'll never forget the look of disappointment on Josh's face. He wanted to win so badly. With five seconds left in overtime, Stephen Jackson fumbled the inbound pass and hit Gerald Brown with a pass and his 40-foot last second shot went in and I was so relieved they bailed Josh out and the kids got their first national championship in summer ball. I also gave Josh double duty of coaching our girls Houston Hoops team where four of our players went on to the WNBA. My daughter Courtney, who later became the Texas High School Gatorade Player of the Year, was the motivation in creating the girls' program.
"Josh will tell you that his experience at a young age coaching girls in addition to the elite boys was a great learning experience in his development as a coach by getting a different perspective in the coaching arena. Josh has always been very "straight'-- not drinking alcohol, not smoking, and doing things the "right" way. He wanted to be a good role model to those he was coaching and teaching and could not expect discipline and hard work if he didn't practice it himself. When I need advice I often call Josh since I know his mind is clear and respect his judgment although he is almost 30 years younger than me. With all that is said above we will still never forget the opportunity Coach Lute Olson and Coach Jim Rosborough afforded Josh by giving him an opportunity to come to Arizona. My father in law, who passed away years ago, was one of the most honest men I ever met and I admired him very much. This is how we felt about Coach Olson. And for Josh to learn from someone who does things the right way and such a great teacher is invaluable. And Coach Rosborough was always in Josh's corner and we will never forget him being a friend and another great coach who taught Josh the game when he first arrived at Arizona in 1996. When Josh first got hired on as a coach he could not believe he was going to get paid for something he loved doing so much."
From a personal standpoint, what stands out about Josh Pastner are all of the repeated compliments he receives from the kids he recruits every year. I have met and spoken with all of Arizona's recruits over the past five or six years and the one thing they all have in common is their praise of Pastner because of how hard he worked to get them to Arizona and that he was always the one coach who made them feel like they were most wanted during the recruiting process.
Some of those very kids that Pastner recruited to Arizona, including 2006 McDonald's All-American Chase Budinger, make it likely that he will once again have an opportunity to ham it up for the cameras when Arizona makes another inevitable run at the NCAA title in the coming years.
The legend of Josh Pastner should be associated with tireless work ethic and winning, not a few moments of irritating posing for the TV when he was an immature 19-year-old hopped up on euphoria from winning a national title as a freshman.
And in the decade that Pastner has been at Arizona, the Wildcats have won 77 percent of their 334 games, including an impressive 101-31 (.765) record since being officially hired as an assistant coach.
Everyone knows how driven Josh is," says roommate and UA basketball administrative aide Jack Murphy. "However, not many people know that he is like that away from the spotlight just as much as he is within it. He never wants to be recognized for his individual work and would much rather sing the praises of the team effort. In recruiting he is relentless and yet never wonders who will get credit for recruit A or B. Just as long as Arizona is successful Josh is happy. He is a man that I have had the opportunity to live with over the past few years and a person who has become one of my closest friends. I could continue to speak on all of the wonderful qualities Josh possesses but I am afraid that I do not have all day. He is an inspiration to many and a beacon of light constantly. He is the man that I would hope for my son to become."
As always, Murph says it all.
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