Just Joshin'

UA Wildcat Josh Pastner Can't Jump -- But He Sure Can Coach.

IF JOSH PASTNER didn't already exist, it would be impossible to create him. Plus, who would want to?

Josh Pastner, for those who have managed to avoid UA basketball the past four years (and how is it there inside the bunker?), is one of the truly unique college athletes of our time. That is, if one of the definitions of "unique" is "can't play worth a lick." Bad white basketball players aren't exactly a novelty; the Southeastern Conference went with nothing but slow honkies for decades until the appropriately named Adolph Rupp retired from Kentucky to Paraguay or some other haven for former Nazis. But giving a uniform and a place on the bench to a bad white basketball player in this day and age is so...retro. Why bother?

It turns out Josh has a gift. He was born old. It's like Jonathan Winters on Mork & Mindy. The way it usually works is that a kid sees a basketball game, gets the twinkling of a dream, then goes out and tries shooting a ball. Pretty soon he's hooked on the juice of hearing that net swish, feeling that ball bounce right back up to his hand when he dribbles, seeing the glorious look of hopelessness in the defender's eye as he drive-by him to the basket.

The dream then takes on a wider scope. He sees himself making the high-school team, being recruited by college coaches, then maybe someday playing in the NBA. Then, after years of too much money, too many women, and too little sleep, he stops playing and tries to find something to keep him close to the game which has given him so much.

Josh decided to skip all that glory stuff and go straight to coaching.

Just as some people have a face made for radio, Josh has a game made for coaching. Coaching is in his blood; unfortunately, so too are massive amounts of the Can't Jump and Can't Dribble genes. He's been teaching the mechanics of jump shooting for most of his 21 years. Physician, heal thyself!

You know that saying "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach?" I always thought it was really mean. But Josh is like the poster child for that saying.

Most people his age like watching videos; he lives to break down film. I once joked that my son was potty-trained at nine months and at 18 months, he was training others. At 18 months, Josh probably would have been able to critique Alexander's technique.

Rumor is that the only reason anybody recruited Josh is that he brought his own video equipment along as part of the deal.

He graduated from the UA in two-and-a-half years and began working on a master's degree at a point where most students are struggling through sophomore year, part II. Graduating in five semesters is, of course, absolutely insane. Members of the UA basketball team don't graduate; they sign contracts. At one time the percentage of Wildcat basketballers earning degrees was in single digits. Josh went and screwed that up.

He once took 45 units in one semester. The Arizona State football team doesn't complete 45 units, collectively, in a semester. Forty-five units in one semester is an absolutely incredible feat for an engineering student. And it would have been if Josh had anything to do with engineering. However, his degree is in family studies, which no one will ever mistake for engineering.

As it turns out, it's not that big a deal. Family studies is a popular major for athletes, probably considering that so many of them are out there trying to start new ones. Plus, Josh certainly had plenty of time to study seeing as how he didn't have to worry about things like playing time. In fact, he sits so far down on that bench, if he were one more place to the left, he'd be obligated to hold up one of those bony cheerleaders during the TV timeouts.

Still, 45 units in one semester is moderately impressive. He could've had 46 but he didn't know the definition of the word "sleep."

You know that scene in Varsity Blues where Moxon is secretly reading a book on the bench during a game? Well, Pastner doesn't know that scene because he doesn't watch movies with girls in them.

Speaking of girls, Josh apparently doesn't have time for such pursuits. He has to study, go to practice, attend class, watch film, write papers, pick up Lute Olson's dry-cleaning, and then find time to rebound practice shots for every other player on the team who actually has a chance of getting into a game. And John Ash.

The story is told that after the national championship was won in 1997, an exuberant young woman approached Pastner at a celebratory party and asked if he would like to partake of her carnal pleasures. The moment was lost when he took the time to call his academic advisor to see if he could get course credit for the liaison. He almost pulled it off, but then he held out for an extra unit in exchange for foreplay.

Every team has a player at the end of the bench, the quasi-popular kid for whom the crowd yells at garbage time. At most places, the crowd yells, "Put in Johnny!" At McKale, it's "Let Josh coach!"

Now he's in his senior year, according to the NCAA's rigid rule based on how many years a player has suited up and been available to go into the games. If the rule were based on the number of minutes a person has actually played, Pastner would have about 67 years of eligibility left.

Amazingly, Pastner has been named team captain for this year's squad, giving him the opportunity for yet another distinction. He's probably the only captain in America who has to worry about earning a Varsity letter.

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