On the Rise
Playing in a glorified rec gym, a team of Big Easy natives is leading the
latest rebuilding project in New Orleans
OF ALL the
mid-major teams that have pulled off upsets in the opening weeks of the season,
no squad deserved to celebrate more than New Orleans, which knocked off then
No. 21 North Carolina State 65--63 in Raleigh on Nov. 18. The 4--1 Privateers,
who haven't reached the NCAA tournament since 1996 or had a winning season
since 2004, are on their third coach in three years and are still playing their
home games at the Human Performance Center, a '60s-era, on-campus recreational
gym that seats just 1,200 fans and had only 805 on hand for New Orleans's home
opener against Lamar on Nov. 28. With 9,000-seat Lakefront Arena still
undergoing repairs because of damage sustained during Hurricane Katrina, the
players also have to do without a proper locker room; they change into their
uniforms in a partitioned corner of a gymnastics hall.
But the Privateers
learned long ago not to dwell on what they don't have. "You have to block
all those negative things out and focus on basketball," says 6-foot senior
guard Bo McCalebb, the reigning Sun Belt player of the year and the team's
leading scorer (20.6 points a game). "All the disruptions have made us a
lot tougher as players and people, and they have brought us closer as a
Indeed, when the
players were scattered in the chaos caused by Katrina in August 2005, four of
this year's five seniors tracked one another down by phone and made a pact.
"We decided we'd stick together, go to Tyler [ Texas, where the team
relocated for a semester] and finish what we had started," says senior
guard James Parlow. It hasn't been easy. Parlow is from New Orleans, and while
he stayed with the program, his family lost its home in the flooding and has
splintered to different parts of the country. McCalebb, another Crescent City
product, passed on offers from Oklahoma State and Ole Miss four years ago to
remain near his mother, Tara Batiste, who suffers from a heart condition. While
he was sitting out two seasons ago as a redshirt because of a thumb injury, he
says several schools contacted his mother to try and get him to transfer.
"I didn't want to be anywhere else because I love this city and this
university," he says.
forward Jacob Manning, sat out most of last season with a foot injury, then was
cut by then coach Buzz Williams. But Williams left shortly after that, taking
an assistant's job at Marquette in July. Manning approached Williams's
replacement, Joe Pasternack, and asked if he could rejoin the team. The player
repaid his new coach's faith in him by grabbing a team-leading nine rebounds in
the 76--65 win over Lamar.
Pasternack is a
30-year-old New Orleans native who spent eight years as an assistant to Ben
Braun at Cal and four seasons before that as a student manager for Bob Knight
at Indiana. Aside from an infectious passion for the game, Pasternack has
brought an emphasis on defense and rebounding—two things New Orleans sorely
lacked—as well as an empathy for what his players have been through. His
parents' house was destroyed by Katrina.
are starving for something good to happen," says Pasternack. "Seeing
their faces after the N.C. State game, I think it gave them a belief in what
still have plenty to work on, as was evident from their season-high 24
turnovers in a 75--60 loss to Nicholls State last Saturday. But Parlow likes
the direction the team is heading. "We're up and coming, and that's good
for the city," he says. "We want to get New Orleans back on the
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