Tigers’ Josh Pastner: The Viceless Wonder
Often times the first joke you hear opposing fans — heck, probably even his own fans — make about Memphis coach Josh Pastner is how the 35-year-old looks like he’s going on 17, with his baby face and curly brown hair.
While Pastner may look like he still belongs in high school, the 35-year old certainly doesn’t act like it. If anything, he’s spent most of his life abiding by a self-imposed set of rules and practices that most teenagers wouldn’t wish on their worst enemy.
At the core of these rules for living is a tenet that members of the college basketball cognoscenti literally couldn’t believe when they heard about it toward to the start of Pastner’s first season leading Memphis, in 2009–2010: At the then-age of 32, he had never had a Coke - or any other soft drink for that matter.
“None of our kids have had a soda,” explained Pastner’s father Hal. “We’re [Hal and his wife Marla] not health nuts or anything, and it wasn’t from any book. We just thought, ‘Why give it to them?’ ”
Now 35, Pastner still hasn’t had one.
Compare that to the rest of America, which is so addicted to carbonated drinks that New York City is currently in a legal battle to ban large sodas at restaurants and other venues in an effort to cut down on the country’s obesity problem. Colorado State head coach Larry Eustachy - one of many college basketball head men who consumes large amounts of caffeine - has estimated that he drinks 15 Diet Cokes per day.
Josh’s life is in sharp contrast to Hal Pastner’s own caffeine consumption habits. A longtime AAU coach in the Houston area who oversaw his son’s development as a future coach, Hal subsists on the same caffeine-heavy diet that most hoops coaches consider lifeblood.
“My doctor told me a few weeks ago to cut back on the Starbucks, but I’ve had three cups today,” the elder Pastner said via phone earlier this week.
The younger Pastner not only refrains from carbonation and caffeinated drinks, hee also doesn’t curse and says he has never tried alcohol or smoked a cigarette. It’s Marla Pastner, according to Hal, who imbued her son with the ability to stay disciplined when abiding by his strict, self-imposed standards.
“My wife is much more disciplined than me,” said Hal. “So many of Josh’s traits come from her. She’s got a clear head and vision, and she’s the real backbone.”
Even after Pastner left his home of Kingwood, TX, for a walk-on spot at Arizona — where Lute Olson recruited him “for his coaching potential rather than his playing ability,” according to a November 2009 AP story – Pastner maintained his decaffeinated ways. What’s more, he continued swearing off alcohol just as he did in high school, no small accomplishment at any college - let alone a party mecca like Arizona.
In fact, Pastner was supposed to have a soda after the Wildcats won the 1997 national title when he was a freshman. Pastner made a bet with then-Arizona star Miles Simon that he would drink his first can if Arizona won it all. Simon is still waiting to collect the bet.
“He always knew that he was going to be in the game of basketball as a coach and said, ‘I’ll never have anything to drink in order to set an example [for my players],’ ” suggested Hal. “If he can set rules or limits or talk about the rights and wrongs, he’s talking from the point of honesty, of what he’s lived.”
An unceasing love of the game and naturally abundant energy — what Hal Pastner calls “a greater gift he’s been given” — is all Josh Pastner ever needed to become a head coach and now succeed as one.
It’s what allowed him to start a nationally recognized recruiting guide (“The Josh Pastner Recruiting Book”) and coach his father’s AAU teams as a teenager (he even applied to coach the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers at the age of 19). It’s what drove him to earn his undergraduate degree in two-and-a-half years, faster than any Arizona student athlete ever. It’s what paved the way for him to be hired at Memphis’ new head coach at the tender age of 31 and what gives him the energy to convince talented recruits to play for the Tigers on a now annual basis.
In his fourth season at Memphis, Pastner has the No. 20 Tigers at 27-4 entering the 2013 Conference USA tournament and staring at a possible deep run in March Madness.
Because when you are Josh Pastner, you can never be too perfect.
Photo Credit: Spruce Derden/USA Today Sports