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Pastner feeling the heat in Memphis

NOTHING BUT THE NOTES

Former Arizona player and assistant coach Josh Pastner and his staff are a subject of criticism lately by some Memphis fans and media, particularly Memphis Commercial-Appeal columnist Dan Wolken. After the Tigers escaped with a 70-68 victory over Austin Peay Thursday night, Wolken wrote some choice observations of Pastner, his team and his assistants. One of the more interesting comments: "Too many handlers whispering selfish poison into these talented young players' ears. Too many assistant coaches worried about their next raise, rather than the next game. Too many fingers being pointed at the wrong targets, when a look in the mirror would suffice." Ouch. At last check, Memphis is 8-1. But then again, Arizona is a respectable 9-2 and coach Sean Miller has arguably been the most critical of his team's lack of a consistent effort and ability to uphold the Arizona tradition (started really by Fred Snowden and pushed over the edge by Lute Olson). Pastner is coaching in John Calipari's shadow immediately after replacing the high-profile coach who bolted to Kentucky last season. Miller is two interim coaches removed from Olson coaching his last game at Arizona. If Miller immediately replaced Olson and had similar difficulties with some of his players, and the team's overall execution, the former Xavier coach might be under more of a microscope in Tucson. Just ask Kevin O'Neill, who immediately followed Olson in 2007-08 and started out hot (and was dubbed Olson's permanent successor by midseason) before the Wildcats fell apart toward the end of the year and O'Neill was not retained. UA fans are willing to give Miller at least three years to get Arizona back on solid ground and able to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. The patience appears to be running thin in Memphis for Pastner, who typically tries to put a positive spin on everything. "Let's talk about the positive," Pastner was quoted as saying after the game Thursday. "We found a way to win." Pastner has already had to deal with removing freshman Jelan Kendrick, a McDonald's All-American guard, from the team for personal reasons. Junior center Angel Garcia also left the team last week to pursue a professional career overseas.... More than 160 Memphis fan/follower comments were made at the end of Wolken's column Thursday with the tone ranging from very supportive for Pastner to being very frank about the young second-year coach. "Honeymoon's over, Pastner" was one of the comments. Another highly critical post by one of Wolken's readers: "Hiring Pastner was a bad move. A school that imagines itself being among the 'elite' of college basketball should not hire an unknown, unskilled, unheard-of, inexperienced person such as Pastner. The U of M has damaged itself terribly with the hire. It will take years --and numerous coaches -- to recover." One of the more positive reader comments about Pastner: "Coach Pastner can and will fail many times, but he isn't a failure until he begins to blame others for his failures. I doubt we will ever see that by him. Coach Pastner is the right coach for the job." ...
Wolken did not expand on his comment about the assistants being more concerned about their next raise. One of the assistant coaches is former UA student manager Jack Murphy, who earned his bachelor's (English) and master's (Educational Psychology) at Arizona. Murphy is one of the all-around good guys in the business whose work ethic and knowledge of the game has allowed him to become one of Pastner's lead assistants. Anybody who has a stamp of approval from Denver Nuggets coach George Karl must be worth his next paycheck. Murphy toiled eight seasons as an administrative assistant and team manager at Arizona before the Nuggets hired him in 2006 as an advance scout and video coordinator. ... The bottom line is you have to give a new college coach a four-year cycle (until he fields a team entirely of his recruited players) to allow for a fair assessment of his value or capability. It’s not fair to believe Pastner will enjoy immediate success after replacing Calipari, who has built a reputation over 20 years. After his first two seasons of coaching in 1988-89 and 1989-90 with UMass, Calipari, 29 when he started in Amherst, Mass., was 27-32. Calipari was afforded the opportunity to establish himself inasmuch as the Minutemen had a streak of 10 straight losing seasons and no NCAA tournament appearances since 1962 when he took over. Not every coach can be like Olson, who almost miraculously took an Arizona program that went 4-24 before his arrival in 1983 to the NCAA tournament only two years later. …
Primarily for precautionary reasons, Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd junior forward Brandon Ashley will likely sit out two more weeks with an injured knee sustained last week. Ashley, a Class of 2012 recruiting priority for Arizona at the post, was out for the team's first three games at the Father Barry Classic in Sacramento.The Dragons have just two games over the next two weeks. Ashley is expected to return for the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic after Christmas. ... Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep's convincing 95-69 win over Houston Yates on Thursday on national television via ESPN was like a recruiting marketing reel for Miller. After the game’s opening tip, Findlay point guard Myck Kabongo (18 points, eight rebounds, five assists) found Class of 2011 Arizona signee Nick Johnson (24 points, five rebounds) for an alley-oop dunk. “Me and Mike wanted to come out and get the crowd … shut them up kind of,” Johnson told the Houston Chronicle. “We called that before the game." The alley-oop dunk made ESPN's Top 10 plays of the day. ESPN announcers commented numerous times that Johnson is headed to Arizona. Even before Johnson puts on an Arizona uniform he pulled out a win for the Wildcats in his own way. ... The commitment of Findlay Class of 2013 guard Nigel Williams-Goss to UNLV this week was not entirely a surprise. Last month, he told me the Rebels, Arizona and Washington, were among his top three. UNLV coach Lon Kruger is slowly building the Rebels’ popularity in Vegas back to the days of Jerry Tarkanian. Kruger and his players are featured on the cover of the most recent Las Vegas Weekly magazine. The title on the cover reads, “They could be heroes: In these tough times, the Runnin’ Rebels are giving a city hope”. I recall being ridiculed by some by writing that Kruger will steal recruits from Arizona at UNLV when I included Kruger’s name among the possibilities to permanently replace Olson for the old site uahoopscoach.com (now WildAboutAZCats.com). The guy is a winner wherever he goes (the problem is he is on the go a lot, coaching four different teams to the NCAA tournament). …
Arizona will be challenged by Kruger and UNLV for the services of Class of 2012 forward Rosco Allen of Las Vegas Bishop Gorman. Allen attends UNLV games when his schedule allows. Also, Kruger and his assistants have been regulars at Bishop Gorman’s workouts and games. Allen’s decision could very well come down to UNLV and Arizona. Allen had a team-high 23 points and 12 rebounds in the Gaels' 62-48 victory over North Port (Fla.) in the City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Fla., on Friday. His two 3-pointers in the first minute of the second half were key. “He has been doing that kind of thing the last two games, averaging nearly 20 points,” Bishop Gorman coach Grant Rice told the Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press. “The shots he hit in the corner were a big turning point.” Bishop Gorman plays tonight against Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer at 8:30 p.m., Tucson time. … Allen’s teammate, the much-coveted Class of 2012 standout Shabazz Muhammad, had 28 points in an 86-56 victory over Desert Oasis of Las Vegas on Monday night. UA assistant coach Archie Miller was in the stands. But his appearance was upstaged by the presence of North Carolina coach Roy Williams.Muhammad took notice of Archie Miller sitting in the stands. He tweeted on his Twitter account: "Just had another game 28 pts 8 rebs and a great team win we are getting better and better every game,” followed by, “The game was good coach Williams from North Carolina was there and Arizona, Kentucky and UCLA." North Carolina appears to be Muhammad’s favorite, although he will not disclose that publicly. Muhammad took an unofficial recruiting trip to North Carolina two weekends ago for the Tar Heels' game against Kentucky. Many recruiting followers believed he would commit to the Tar Heels during the visit, but Muhammad did not pull the trigger. Muhammad is also considering Pastner’s program at Memphis. If Arizona manages to get Muhammad on campus for either an unofficial or official visit, it should be considered somewhat of a triumph because Muhammad’s focus has not been on Arizona during his recruiting experience. …
Anthony Gimino of TucsonCitizen.com reported this week that Nick Foles is likely to return for his senior season rather than enter the NFL draft. Auburn’s Cam Newton and Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett are two juniors who will likely forego their senior seasons. If Foles (6-5, 240) returns he would be one of the top five NFL quarterback prospects for the 2012 draft (a perch unheard of for Wildcat signal-callers). The other potential quarterbacks who will be drafted in 2012: junior-to-be Matt Barkley (6-4, 235 pounds) of Southern California, sophomore Aaron Murray (6-1, 209) of Georgia, junior Landry Jones (6-4, 220) of Oklahoma and senior Blaine Gabbert (6-5, 240) of Missouri. … Former Wildcat forward Michael Wright, who turned 30 on July 1, is showing no signs of wear and tear in his 10th professional season overseas. Wright, now a Turkish citizen who goes by the name of Ali Karadeniz there, has the No. 1 efficiency rating of the Turkey Basketball League through nine games. He leads the league with 21.9 points per game and is third with 9.3 rebounds per game. Wright is in his fourth season in Turkey and is playing for Medical Park Trabzonspor. Other notable players in Turkey, other than Allen Iverson of Besiktas Cola Turka, of course, are former Houston player Aubrey Coleman of Aliaga Petkim (the guy who stepped on Chase Budinger’s face during the 2008-09 season), former UA and Tennessee player J.P. Prince and ex-Cal player Patrick Christopher of Antalya BSB, former Cal and Pac-10 player of the year Jerome Randle of Aliaga Petkim, and former UCLA player Josh Shipp of Galatasaray Cafe Crown.

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