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A Few Thoughts on Pastner to Memphis

I'll start by saying that I wish Josh the absolute best. I really hope he tears it up at Memphis. I like him, and I think he has the makings of an excellent coach. However, I can't help the nagging feeling that Josh is being set up for failure.

Pastner found himself on Lute Olsen's staff shortly after his playing career, which began as a walk-on. He hardly embarrassed himself. Under his watch Arizona continued to get and develop its fair share of NBA-quality talent (e.g., Bayless, Hill, Budinger). Yet, I think it's fair to say that there was a considerable dropoff in the quality of Arizona's secondary stars and role players from prior seasons.

Pastner took the program's recruiting away from its historical roots in the West, particularly Southern California and the Northwest, to emphasize recruiting in Texas. One critique of Texas high school hoops talent is that it's fantastic at the top but weak at the next tier. I think that critique was borne out under Pastner's watch. Arizona remained reasonably competitive for top level talent nationwide, but became steadily weaker at the next level of talent. Secondary stars and role players like Salim Stoudemire, Richard Anderson, and Channing Frye were not considered "prized" recruits when they got to campus. (I won't even count Gilbert Arenas as the ultimate sleeper recruit.) By comparison, Nic Wise, Fendi Onobun, and Juwan McClellan, with all due respect, are a much weaker group.

Okay, so if a guy is pulling in the likes of Bayless and Budinger why does this other stuff matter? On the one hand it's not hard to identify top talent. Hell, McDonalds does that for you. You just hope you can sell them on your program. The real mark of a coach's eye for talent is in the secondary and role players he recruits. That's where coaches have a good bit of discretion. Those are the guys you hope come in unheralded and turn themselves into real players. Where Pastner has had the most discretion, his success has been a mixed bag.

As for Josh's strategizing and game management, we just don't know. There is every reason to believe the guy is bright, and of course he has learned under two very good coaches. So, I am certainly willing to give Pastner the benefit of the doubt. But, there is legitimate doubt.

So what you have at Memphis is a potentially combustible mix of inexperience, a roster that has gone from talent-rich to talent-depleted overnight, the pressure of following a legend, a contract that probably quadrupled his highest previous salary, and fans that are used to winning. Consider that the last time Memphis lost a conference game Hillary Clinton was the shoe-in Democratic nominee for president. Add all that up and the potential is high for things to go very, very wrong in an awful hurry.

Why would Memphis do this? Obviously, they must believe in Josh. No matter how cynical one might want to be about these matters no university--not even the Ivys--has $4 million to just piss away. Still, I'm surprised that Memphis didn't look for a young coach at a low major, or even a more experienced assistant. I have my suspicions about whether part of the AD's motivation was to keep at least some recruits from bolting the program. If true, that's not good for Josh long-term. If the bottom falls out for Memphis, and it may, those recruits won't be able to save his job.

I hope Josh can coach his way out of the circumstances, but this is a tough deal even for a veteran coach. The problem I foresee for Josh is that any number of things that really aren't his fault could go wrong and things might not work out. Unfortunately, he won't have much of a record to fall back on.

Good luck Josh. You're going to need it.