MEMPHIS — In the week since he was hired to fill a crater-sized hole left by John Calipari, new Memphis basketball coach Josh Pastner has been praised as a 31-year-old wunderkind.
"I believe to have success, you have to be a visionary," Pastner told The Commercial Appeal, the newspaper in Memphis. "I really believe that. A visionary is someone who sees things that you want to happen and then makes them happen."
He was working on two hours of sleep — since Monday, when his life changed. Unkempt and wearing sweats, he had been packing up so he could join Calipari in Kentucky when Athletics Director R.C. Johnson called. Two hours later, Pastner agreed to a 5-year, $4.4 million contract to coach the Tigers.
Everything had been designed for that moment, which might sound like an exaggeration until you consider that he landed his first recruit at age 14. Or that he coached his first AAU team at age 16. Or that he applied to become the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers at age 19. Or that he graduated from Arizona in five semesters, in part to bolster his case that he cared about academics when college jobs opened up.
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"I believe in myself," he said. "I've prepared my whole life for this."
The basketball offices at Memphis were quiet last week, the second floor of the Athletic Office Building empty. Calipari had absconded to Kentucky with three of his assistants — and even his office manager.
Pastner had to hire a staff, meet with his players, talk to recruits, embrace the community. He had no idea he was even a candidate until Johnson called him Monday morning.
"He told me he's feeling some pressure," said his father, Hal Pastner.
"Josh is a carbon copy of his father," said Jim Rosborough, a former assistant at Arizona, where Josh Pastner received his bachelor's and master's degrees and where he was a player/coach. "Three cell phones on the interstate, driving with his knee? That's father and son. We've all kidded Josh about being obsessive, a little compulsive. But he learned everything from his dad."
When Josh Pastner was at Arizona, he thought Arizona could win a national championship, and he shared that opinion. Pastner studied film, went to class, practiced, worked with teammates and slept little. He scored 12 points all season, and Arizona won the national title.
"He was absolutely one of the keys to our championship run," said Miles Simon, a teammate. "All he wanted was for us to get better."
He worked his way up the ladder, from player to undergraduate assistant to video coordinator to recruiting coordinator to assistant coach. His reputation as a top-tier recruiter ballooned. He helped land and develop Chase Budinger, Nic Wise, Jordan Hill and Jerryd Bayless.
"You know how people in the Army carry hand grenades on their belt? Josh would have cell phones," said George Kalil, a longtime Arizona booster and Tucson business owner. "I think at one time he had four phones, but I'm not sure. Maybe he had eight."
His dating life was a mess. Friends would set him up — for failure. He was always fielding calls during lunch. Or at the movies. Or over ice cream.
"I was a bad date," Pastner said.
"Girls would come back and say, 'He's crazy,'" said Jack Murphy, a close friend and former Arizona manager who now scouts for the Denver Nuggets. "He's going to kill me for telling you this, but he'd take dates to dinner and he'd have a list of questions. He'd be like, 'Our son is 16 years old, and he wants to drink alcohol. What would you say to him?' Keep in mind, this is on the first date."