No caffeine needed by Memphis' energetic Pastner

Published Nov. 21, 2009 5:02 a.m. ET

Josh Pastner has "Gratefulness" posted above his office door. He gets his kicks coaching, doesn't need any additives to enjoy life. The new Memphis coach has never sipped alcohol, smoked a cigarette, tried caffeine or drunk a soda. He's no goody two-shoes, he's just the coaching equivalent of a gym rat. "I know how grateful that I am to be able to be in this opportunity and how grateful we are to be able to do what we do," Pastner said. Pastner has spent hours studying talent on gym floors around the country as a recruiter. Now 32, Pastner finally has the head coaching job he's wanted since he was 9, and his task is salvaging the Memphis program after John Calipari bolted for Kentucky. Early results are promising. Memphis missed a last-second 3 Tuesday night in falling 57-55 to No. 1 Kansas, and Pastner's 2010 recruiting class is ranked No. 1 by and after adding Jelan Kendrick, Hippolyte Tsafack, and Tarik Black within the past week. Lute Olson recruited Pastner to Arizona for his coaching potential rather than his playing ability, then put him on staff after he graduated in just 2 1/2 years. He sees someone dedicated to being his best. "Basketball was something that he was so passionate about you knew it was going to be something that was going to be critical to him in his life, and he was noted for being a guy that was a 24-hour-a-day guy," Olson said. "He just always was available to call or talk about anybody that was a prospect, and there wasn't anybody he didn't know about." Coaching is what Pastner has wanted since he was a boy living in Kingwood, Texas. He started "The Josh Pastner Recruiting Book" he sent to coaches and was coaching his father's Houston Hoops AAU teams - boys and girls - by 16. He even applied at 19 to coach the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers. Hal Pastner dropped his son off to scout players at gyms and started the Hoops to help his son. Pastner wound up coaching players like Stephen Jackson, Rashard Lewis and Emeka Okafor - now all in the NBA. And his son's decision to drink water, lemonade or Crystal Light? "He's always said he would want to tell his players if he wants to be a role model for his players, he would want to make sure what he told them, he lived so he decided never to drink alcohol, and we never gave him soda," Hal Pastner said. When Pastner was in danger of not making the high school team as a freshman and was picked on by other students, his father's advice? Work harder. Pastner wound up the team MVP as a senior. Pastner called his father a couple days after arriving at Arizona, struggling on a talented roster that later won the 1997 national championship. He got the same advice - work harder. So Pastner invited Mike Bibby to work out together, and they became roommates. Bibby, now with the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, said Pastner always had his days planned out from the moment he woke up at 5 a.m. Pastner already has sent a letter to Bibby's 12-year-old son. "He went to school knowing he wasn't going to play basketball. From the start, he knew he wanted to be a coach. From the first day there, I was in the gym with him. From the first day there, until I left. I give him a lot of credit for where I am today," Bibby said. Olson credits Pastner with helping Bibby start as a freshman on that title team, and the coach noticed his Wildcats looking surprised at the first meeting as the gung-ho Pastner said they would win a national title. "After a while that just rubbed off on everybody. 'Hey, if we work hard enough and play together as a team, who knows what we can accomplish,"' Olson said. Pastner moved from player to video/recruiting coordinator to undergraduate assistant and then assistant. Olson said Pastner took it upon himself to learn about big men like Bill Walton and Pete Newell after being switched from working with guards. He has the same focus in his personal life. Pastner warned dates of his schedule with one walking out on dinner when he took a call from a recruit just before a signing period. He got married in May and knows what to do if he answers the phone during a movie and his wife walks out. "I'll just follow her to the car," Pastner said. The move to Memphis in 2008 was to expand his resume. He spent a year working for Calipari and had his boxes packed into a borrowed car April 6, ready to follow him to Lexington when Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson called. Johnson had tried, and failed, to lure big-name coaches including Tennessee's Bruce Pearl. He offered the job to Pastner and introduced him a day later with a $4.4 million, five-year contract. "I know there's people more deserving of the job than I am, and I don't have any bones about that," Pastner said. "But things happen so I understand part of this game is how many great coaches who spent years and years of their life in the game haven't had this opportunity." It's been a whirlwind since. Pastner lost four starters to graduation and had two leave early for the NBA off a 33-4 team. He also lost the No. 1-rated recruiting class as well, with most following Calipari to Kentucky. Then the NCAA vacated the 38-2 record and national championship appearance from the 2007-08 season, and Pastner lost two players to knee injuries. That leaves him just eight scholarship players, a number boosted by the hardship transfer of Elliot Williams from Duke to be near his sick mother. Memphis isn't the favorite for the first time in five seasons in Conference USA. "You're going to take a step back to take two steps forward," Pastner said. Maybe just a half-step back.