There is a presiding idea around college basketball that the Memphis Tigers‘ Josh Pastner is a prodigy of a coach, a young rising star of the coaching ranks. But after last night’s humiliating defeat to Virginia in the Round of 32 the NCAA tournament, that star seems to be fading.
Legend has it Pastner has never had caffeine. He’s never had a sip of alcohol. He wrote a recruiting magazine at age 13, applied for the Los Angeles Clippers head coaching vacancy at 19. He coached his first AAU team at age 16. He graduated from Arizona in two and half years and earned a Masters Degree a year later. Where did he find time to play basketball at Arizona? Well, he didn’t; he rarely played, and to his own admission spent his time rebounding for Mike Bibby after practice.
He, supposedly, was born to be a basketball coach, and according to some Memphis fans he’s the next John Wooden. This all helps perpetuate the myth of Josh Pastner: Next Great Coach, but the fact is, he’s average at best.
Pastner has been the coach at Memphis for five years now. The program he took over was coming off a four-year span that saw the Tigers go Elite Eight, Elite Eight, title game and Sweet 16. In the five years under Pastner since that time, the Tigers have won two NCAA Tournament games. Archie Miller of Dayton has won two this year in his third year. Cuonzo Martin at Tennessee has won three this year in his third year at Tennessee. Both Martin and Miller coach at schools far down the basketball rung from Memphis. Memphis was ranked as the No. 14 program over the last 20 years by ESPN back in 2010.
Two tournament wins in five years at an elite level school is not what makes a legend, is it? Not for a prodigy. Watching Pastner’s Tigers play is like watching an AAU team full of the best players play in a mid-level tournament. The game is full of highlight real dunks and one-handed passes, but devoid of defense and basic principles on offense. During a blowout loss to Oklahoma State this season, analysts from across the country were tweeting “does Memphis runs any Offense”, “do they know you actually have to play defense at the Division 1 level”. The Oklahoma State loss was in November. Fast forward to last night’s NCAA Tournament game against Virginia, and nothing had changed. In fact, over five years nothing has changed. Memphis plays AAU basketball.
Pastner is supposed to be a great recruiter, but most of his big-time recruits are born and raised in Memphis — kids who already want to go to the University of Memphis. Outside of the city of Memphis, Pastner’s recruiting acumen has been poor. His best get was Will Barton (No. 6 ranked recruit) four years ago while missing out on every other Top 10 recruit who lives outside of Memphis. Memphis is a hotbed of high school talent, and just about any coach at the University of Memphis is going to get Memphis born talent; that’s the way it’s always been.
Pastner has won 75 percent of his games in his five years as coach of the Memphis Tigers. But a closer look at those numbers will reveal he’s 5-19 against the AP Top 25. The numbers will reveal that 90 percent of his wins have come against teams far outside the RPI Top 50 and most have come against the RPI Top 100. Pastner simply overwhelmed Conference USA teams with Memphis born talent during his first four years. The Tigers moved to the tougher AAC conference this year and promptly finished in fifth place at 12-6. They lost a total of three games in conference over the final two years in CUSA. His teams rarely beat good teams.
So, as the Tigers head into another disappointing offseason, Tiger fans would be best served cutting the man away from the myth. They have five years of disappointing results to look at to build the real story.