After 12 years as a player and coach at Arizona, Josh Pastner left for Memphis to be an assistant coach in 2008, a year before being chosen to replace John Calipari as head coach of the Tigers.
In year two at Memphis, Pastner made his first NCAA tournament as head coach, and his first round matchup is against alma mater Arizona.
Pastner spoke to WildcatAuthority.com about the game, his time in Arizona, and more.
WildcatAuthority.com: What was your reaction when you saw you'd be playing Arizona?
Josh Pastner: First of all, I think Arizona is a really good basketball team. When you've won 27 games and won the Pac-10 championship, you're doing something right.
Derrick Williams, I obviously tried to recruit him here, and I blame everything on USC (laughs). They let him transfer within the conference, but obviously that all worked out for Derrick. Actually, on my All-American ballot, I voted for Derrick for Player of the Year. That's how much respect I have for Derrick.
I think Sean (Miller) is one of the best coaches in the business; there's no question about that. I truly believe that. I think it's going to be a fun game. I know people are talking about it being my alma mater and everything, which everyone knows I loved my time in Tucson and I love the university, but I'm here in Memphis, I bleed blue and grey right now and that's the bottom line.
This is about survival. You survive and advance or you lose and go home and that's the case for both teams. It's nothing more than that.
WildcatAuthority.com: You're the winningest coach in Memphis history after two seasons but a lot of people probably don't realize that it wasn't exactly a clean situation you were taking over.
Josh Pastner: Well, when I took over, we lost the entire recruiting class because they all followed coach (John) Calipari to Kentucky, which I had no problem with because I helped get those guys to sign for Coach Cal and they should follow him because I didn't want anyone who didn't want to be in Memphis. I thought the right thing to do was to follow coach Calipari because that's who they signed with.
Last year was a transition year for us and my thing was to make sure we kept things together, which we did. We won 24 games, we stayed together and made sure we did our thing with recruiting, and we signed some good players. At the beginning of this year, I told everyone, this is the first year of a brand new thing we're building.
It wasn't the year to have expectations, because we're building from ground zero. We had a brand new team and it was going to take some time. I truly believed that. There were going to be peaks and valleys and ups and downs.
That was the case, but I think we're peaking at the right time and we're playing our best basketball. We hit our 25th win and we're winning a lot of close games. I think we're 16-2 in single digit games and 13-1 in games decided by five points or less.
WildcatAuthority.com: You said it's not really about you and Arizona, but there has to be a personal aspect to this game for you.
Josh Pastner: I do love Arizona, and if it's a personal aspect, it's because Sean Miller is a friend. Heck, I was trying to convince him to take the Arizona job when he was deciding whether he should take it or not. When I got the Memphis job, I was calling him asking him for advice.
This is really more about trying to win games in the NCAA tournament and you have to win the first one if you're going to win a national championship, you have to win the first one. The first opponent is Arizona and it's a very good opponent. Yeah, it's my alma mater, but once the ball is tipped, you don't think about anything like that.
WildcatAuthority.com: When was the last time you talked to Sean Miller personally?
Josh Pastner: I'm not sure the exact time but we spent a lot of time together this past summer talking to each other. I know I talked to him a time or two in the preseason. I watched the Arizona games a lot during the year; a lot. I'd be at home during the Thursday/Saturday Pac-10 games and turn on Fox Sports and I love watching them play.
I love what Sean does with his offensive philosophy. When the season is done, I want to be able to pick up the phone and pick his brain on some things that he does because I really like it. I can't say enough how much respect I have for Sean Miller. The fact is, he's one of the best in the business.
WildcatAuthority.com: You have a positive reputation with most Arizona fans, but there are some UA fans who are skeptical of you as a coach, you as a recruiter and in general, what you did at the U of A. This game has to be personal to prove yourself to them, right?
Josh Pastner: I'm sure there are fans who skeptical of me at Arizona, and there are fans skeptical of me at Memphis. Those are just the facts of it. My thing is, all you can do is do the very best you can. That's the bottom line. You do it the right way, you do the best you can, and you don't worry about the negativity or anything like that. You have to keep everything positive.
Like I said, I loved my time there. Even if there were fans who didn't like me, that's okay. I'm sure fans didn't like me as a player either because I got on their nerves always being in the TV camera (laughs). That's just part of the nature of the beast. I can tell you this. Every second I was in Tucson, I loved every second of it. I didn't take it for granted. I loved the city of Tucson, I loved the people, and I loved being at the U of A.
WildcatAuthority.com: When you look back over the last few years of your time at Arizona, how do you feel about the job you did?
Josh Pastner: Here's my thing, I loved my time at Arizona. Obviously I felt there were a lot of positives. Only positives; we had a great run. Towards the end there was some transition that wasn't smooth sailing for everybody, but that's part of it. Obviously it all worked out and it went in a cycle because Sean has it right back to where it was under coach Olson and that's the bottom line.
I really believe that if coach Olson did not retire that year, he would have had the chance to win a national championship. They would have had Jerryd Bayless, Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger, Nic Wise, Brandon Jennings, Emmanuel Negedu, Jeff Withey, and they would have had the chance to do some amazing things that year. Jerryd would have come back and who knows what would have happened from there.
WildcatAuthority.com: So how do these two teams match up?
Josh Pastner: I think it's a really good matchup. I think it's a high level game and you've got a lot of good players on the floor. I think there's a lot of quickness and athleticism. I'm really anxious for the game. If I was a fan, and not coaching in the game, I'd say I really want to see this matchup. I think it's going to be a fun and entertaining game. I think it will go down to the wire.
Q&A with Josh Pastner
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