Josh Pastner was excited. He thought he was headed to Kentucky to be an assistant coach for John Calipari.
When Calipari took the UK job last spring, Pastner packed his clothes, boxed up his office, returned his courtesy car and the key.
"So I was gone," he said last week.
Then Memphis Athletics Director R.C. Johnson called and said he needed to meet with Pastner.
"I assumed he'd hired a head coach and he wanted me to stay on as an assistant and maybe try to keep some of the recruits," Pastner said.
Though self-conscious about wearing sweatpants, a T-shirt and gym shoes, Pastner met with Johnson.
"I went into his house and he said, 'Hey, Josh, do you want the job?' " Pastner said. The answer was no. He wanted to join Calipari's staff at Kentucky.
"No, no," Johnson said. "I mean, the head coaching job."
"So, I'm thinking I'm getting caught on Candid Camera," Pastner said.
Memphis had approached such head coaches as Mike Anderson, Tim Floyd and Scott Drew about replacing Calipari. Pastner, who thought replacing Calipari at Memphis was taking on a fool's errand, had not considered "for one split second" applying for the job.
After getting Calipari's blessing, Pastner became the 17th basketball head coach at Memphis. At 31, he's one of the youngest Division I coaches, young enough to be known in media circles as Bobby Brady.
A check at the halfway point of his first season proves Charles De Gaulle was right when he noted that the graveyards are full of indispensable men. Memphis seems to have survived Calipari's move to Kentucky.
The Tigers took a 13-5 record into a game against Houston on Saturday night. The average home attendance is 16,656, which is fewer than 100 off the 16,748 that came to home games in the Final Four season of 2007-08.
"It's been great," Pastner said. "I've loved every second of it. ... It's not easy when you're replacing a guy who's the winningest coach in the history of the game the last four years. I made sure to try to do the best I can to make sure the program remains at the highest level possible."
In recruiting, a Pastner specialty, Memphis has the No. 1-rated class in the country coming next season. That class includes at least four players that held Kentucky's interest: Will Barton, Jalen Kendrick, Joe Jackson and Tarik Black.
Pastner recoiled from the suggestion that he beat Calipari and Kentucky for prospects. He preferred to note the "unbelievable job" Calipari did at Memphis and the importance of continuing the momentum. In response to a question, he acknowledged the "interesting dynamic" in capitalizing on Calipari's foundation while also competing with the UK coach for recruits.
The son of a coach, Pastner's claim to fame is having known as a fifth-grader he wanted to go into coaching. He noted he learned from one Hall of Famer (Lute Olson) as a player and assistant at Arizona and one future Hall of Famer (Calipari).
The chance to move with Calipari was not Pastner's first chance at joining Kentucky basketball. In 2007, then new UK coach Billy Gillispie interviewed him for an assistant's job. "I wasn't ready to leave Arizona," he said.
Pastner was still at Arizona in 2007-08, when Memphis set a record with 38 victories and advanced to the Final Four. So he has no emotional stake in the subsequent NCAA finding of rule violations and order that Memphis had to vacate the victories and Final Four appearance, plus return money made in the NCAA Tournament.
On Friday, Memphis is scheduled to appeal the order to vacate victories and return NCAA Tournament money. A judgment on the appeal is not expected for weeks.
"Even though I wasn't part of the team that year, you want to keep the banner up there for those young men," Pastner said before adding, "I'll be honest about the appeal date, I didn't even know that till I read it in the paper."
As a self-described "positive guy," he's looking to the future and not dwelling on that graveyard filled with indispensable men.
Big Blue/Big Sky
When John Calipari staged his "Hoops for Haiti" telethon last weekend, one of the most surprising pledges came from the mayor of Bozeman, Mont.
Mayor Jeff Krauss watched the telethon online and called in a pledge of $100, which raised a question: Why?
"I was born in Madisonville," Krauss said. "I was inoculated with the basketball gene there. That's why I pay attention."
Although his family moved to Richmond, Va., when he was 5, Krauss remained a UK fan. He recalled listening to his transistor radio as Cawood Ledford called the games. When Kentucky played in the NIT last spring, Krauss got score updates on his Blackberry while attending a commissioner's meeting.
Krauss first went to Montana to help a friend settle in at Montana State. He's lived there since 1975.
Now in his second term as mayor, Krauss noted Bozeman is 90 miles north of Yellowstone Park.
And if you're thinking of moving to Bozeman, you better like snow. Krauss said there's snow on the ground from Thanksgiving to the first of March.
Flipping through the offerings on Lexington cable television earlier this month, I stumbled onto the Vanderbilt-Alabama game on Channel 17.
That's not one of the ever-extending family of ESPN channels nor the SEC Network (WKYT, cable channel 9 in Lexington) nor Fox. It's a channel devoted to local programming.
Jason Keller, the director of public affairs for Insight Communications, said the cable company puts SEC games on Channel 17 each week. These are games not carried by ESPN or the SEC Network in the Kentucky market. The arrangement is part of the league's television deal with ESPN.
"We are currently playing two to four SEC men's and women's games per week on Insight Channel 17 in Lexington," Keller wrote in an e-mail.
There's no advance schedule of games. As TV people say, check your local listings.
The good ...
During an appearance on Dan Patrick's radio show Thursday, John Calipari saluted UK fans for generously pledging enough money to raise $1 million on the Hoops for Haiti relief telethon last Sunday.
"I love our fans," Calipari said. "They get so involved in whatever you do."
Calipari also noted the power his position holds.
"You are in a seat here, Dan, that you cheat the position if you do not get involved in things," he said. "You cheat the position. You are only here temporarily, but this seat has unbelievable. I don't want to use the term juice, but it has a way of moving people in this state. And you cheat the position if you don't use it for good."
... the bad and the ugly
On his weekly sports commentary on National Public Radio, Frank Deford harshly criticized college athletics.
"Coaches were fired for being abusive to players; coaches jumped contracts; money kept rolling into the fun and games; and even the secretary of education popped up to excoriate the whole business," Deford said last week. "The stink just continues to rise — but don't worry, college fans, nothing good will come out of all the complaints. ...
"College athletic departments always respond, 'Well, gee whiz, we're not really taking all that much money away from the book-learning business because we get a lot of our money from boosters' — which is akin to a company protesting to its stockholders that, don't worry, we don't have to borrow from banks because the loan sharks are supporting us. ...
"Coaches are seldom penalized and seldom criticize each other. But Bob Knight, a Hall of Fame coach himself, dared publicly to point out that John Calipari, the highest-paid basketball coach in the country, at Kentucky, has twice left colleges behind that suffered sanctions on his watch.
"Ever hear that the past is prologue, Kentucky? But never mind; the Wildcats are now No. 2. ...
"Meanwhile, Arne Duncan, the education secretary, says it's a disgrace that colleges don't graduate more so-called student-athletes. But the truth is, sadly, that so many of these players are just sham students, being passed along. Don't waste your time with college sports, Mr. Secretary. American education has enough real problems — and no boosters to pay the bills."
Shortly after he became Kentucky coach last spring, John Calipari said he probably would not be coaching beyond age 60.
Calipari, who turns 51 on Feb. 10, said much the same thing on Dan Patrick's radio show Thursday.
When asked by Patrick what he would be doing in 12 years, Calipari said, "I am on a beach and probably asking you, what do you want? I am on the 12th hole, would you leave me alone?"
When asked whether he could guarantee in 10 years that he will be done coaching, Calipari said, "I will tell you that if I am still coaching after 10 years, something happened, something drastic. There would be something that you would say I know why you are still doing it. There is something that happened. I don't know what that would be. I can't foresee it"
Two-time Olympian Reese Hoffa won the shot put at the UK Invitational last weekend.
Hoffa, a world champion in 2006 (indoors) and 2007 (outdoors), grew up in Bardstown and Georgia. In a conversation with Herald-Leader sportswriter Mark Maloney, he recalled attending his first UK basketball game as a 4-year-old.
"Actually, it happened to be Kentucky against Georgia and it was the most incredible experience ever," he said. "We lived in Bardstown, drove all the way up here. We made a trip of it, had a special meal. I actually got to go down there and get some autographs. Of course, I didn't know who they were. But that will live forever in me.
"I've seen a bunch of games at Georgia, but there's nothing like seeing a Kentucky game in Rupp Arena. That's amazing."
Syndicated columnist Norman Chad had this exchange with a reader last week:
Q: Why don't they eject that guy with the noisy bullhorn that keeps blasting during all the basketball games? (Carl A. Smaida; Whitefish Bay, Wis.)
A: Nobody wants to toss Dick Vitale out of the arena.
In opposing John Calipari's idea to play several "home" games in Louisville each season, Lexington restaurateur Jim Sawyer had a question.
"How many times has UCLA moved their homecourt?" he asked. "I don't think they ever did."
UCLA spokesman Ryan Finney's research showed the Bruins have never played a home game anywhere but Pauley Pavilion since it was built in 1965-66.
The Lexington chapter of the Marshall Alumni Association is sponsoring a bus trip to see the Herd play East Carolina on Feb. 6.
Cost of the trip is $41 with Jan. 28 the deadline for reserving a seat.
For more information, contact Denise Finley at (859) 396-2518 or firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Noel Hughes at (304) 696-3385 or email@example.com.
To Chris Mills, who remains the only UK player to record a triple-double. His 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists against Austin Peay in 1988 was also the first triple-double by an SEC player.
Mills turns 40 on Monday.