Why Arizona Basketball Needs Josh Pastner To Save the Program

Blake BartholomewContributor IApril 5, 2009

If Xavier’s Sean Miller, Oklahoma’s Jeff Capel, and all the other current and former coaches decide to spurn Tucson’s sunshine and stay put, Arizona Athletic Director Jim Livengood would be best served hiring a former face: 31-year old Josh Pastner.

The former Arizona walk-on, assistant coach, and for the past year an assistant and lead recruiter to John Calipari at Memphis would bring back the family atmosphere that the program has lacked the past two years.

Furthermore, Arizona is too good a program to be used by coaches to get better deals and have negative press continuously heaped upon it. Livengood needs a man who wants the job and will not use it as a stepping stone down the road.

Josh Pastner is that man.

Even as a little-used guard under Lute Olson in the mid-'90s Pastner acted more as coach than player. He was almost immediately hired to work under Olson after his eligibility ran out, and then had the foresight to leave the program for Memphis before WWIII really began in Tucson, with Lute Olson’s blessing.

Pastner is a brilliant recruiter, and has brought talent from across the west, most notably California and Texas, to the desert. His deep recruiting ties throughout the west will help Arizona face its first hurdle, its lack of essentially two years’ worth of recruits.

Whoever the head coach is next year, he will need warm bodies to fill the bench, and lots of them. While a coach should not be hired based solely on one year’s worth of recruits he could bring in, it should be noted that the star-studded Memphis recruiting class is up for grabs now that John Calipari has left for Kentucky.

Who’s to say Pastner couldn’t get one or two of them to come to Tucson? It’s not that hard of a sell.

Albeit for only one year, his apprenticeship under Calipari coupled with his near decade under Olson provides Pastner about as much preparation and knowledge possible for a career assistant. Why not go with Pastner?

The obvious, and only, negative about Pastner is his inexperience as a head coach. From an outside perspective, it is understandable to think that he should build his way up to a program of Arizona’s stature rather than beginning his career in Tucson.

This is a valid argument, however if Pastner surrounds himself with a quality, experienced coaching staff he should be able to turn Arizona Basketball around and bring it back to prominence.

First and foremost, Pastner would need an experienced lead assistant, and the most obvious choice would be Jim Rosborough, who was an assistant under Lute Olson both at Iowa and Arizona for 27 years. Other candidates should and undoubtedly would be considered, but whoever is selected must be an old and wise Yoda to Pastner’s Skywalker.

The one and only drawback to hiring Pastner is his inexperience, and having an established lead assistant will help ease the transition.

To fill out his coaching staff, Pastner would be wise to look at current assistant and former Wildcat player Reggie Geary. He will continue to rebuild the sense of family that once was Arizona Basketball as he is red and blue through and through.

Like Pastner, Geary is known for his recruiting abilities, and he has been the only coach on the recruiting trail this season for the ‘Cats.

The final assistant spot should go to former Wildcat assistant and Most Outstanding Player of the 1997 NCAA Tournament Miles Simon. Simon was ran off as part of the soap opera that was the fallout of Lute Olson’s retirement, but has proven both his recruiting abilities and zest for improving his players.

Simon was seen both early in the morning and late at night performing individual drills in the off-season at the student recreation center on campus while an assistant in Tucson.

Arizona now has the Richard Jefferson Practice Facility, which should only add to the list of recruiting talking points Pastner and his staff would have at their disposal.

Pastner is known throughout college circles for his recruiting wonders, and Geary is more than on his way down that path. Simon is a young assistant craving for another opportunity and Rosborough would bring stability to the program as Pastner goes over the expected bumps in the road.

Arizona would dominate west coast recruiting with Pastner and Geary, especially considering perhaps the most important reason to hire Pastner as head coach: former Arizona Wildcat players.

Pastner played with many Arizona greats, and was on the 1997 National Championship team. He would have the backing and support of all the former players.

The embarrassing handling of Olson’s retirement left the basketball program, and thus the athletic department which depends on its cash cow to pay for nearly every other sport, in shambles.

Under Olson, players came back to Tucson; they could be seen on campus during recruiting visits; they talked up the program when interviewed; they remained Wildcats.

Now I am not saying Arizona is on par with North Carolina or Kentucky in terms of history, but it is a top 10 program and it should use its pedigree to its advantage.

Former players know Pastner, and anyone would be hard pressed to find one that does not like him. Arizona would become a much more visible program nationally with the hiring of Pastner and the support of former players, and this fact simply cannot be overstated.

Pastner is the perfect fit for Arizona, and is hoping that you can go home again.