LAST NOVEMBER, Arizona assistant basketball coach Josh Pastner was on a date when he felt his cellphone vibrate. Recognizing the number of a prized recruit, 6'10" forward Ndudi Ebi from Houston, Pastner excused himself from one promising prospect and spent the rest of the movie talking to another. Two weeks later Ebi signed with the Wildcats, but Pastner's budding romance fizzled. "On his dates his phone will ring or he'll be watching TV during dinner," says Arizona associate head coach Jim Rosborough. "No girl will go out with him very long."
Pastner, 25, has been making sacrifices to his hoops obsession nearly his whole life. When he was 10, his father, Hal, founded the Houston Hoops AAU team, and Josh often traveled with the team around the country. At 13 he launched The josh Pastner Scouting Report, a 100-page annual based on his observations of national AAU talent. Three years later Hal handed his son the coaching duties.
In the summer of '95 Josh, then a high school senior, sent a letter to Rosborough inviting the Arizona staff to a workout in Houston to check out his team's college prospects. Rosborough was impressed with the workout—and with the precocious Pastner. "I just called him every Sunday for a year," says Pastner. A slow 5'9" point guard at Kingwood High, Pastner was hardly Division I material, but he marketed himself as a "coach in training." Rosborough and coach Lute Olson offered Josh an athletic scholarship.
At his first team meeting, Pastner stood up and preached the value of hard work to All-Pac-10 guard Miles Simon and future NBAers Mike Bibby, Michael Dickerson and Jason Terry. The players laughed. Soon, though, Simon started doing the drills Pastner had recommended to help his stroke. Bibby joined the workouts, and then Terry and forward Bennett Davidson. Says Bibby, now a point guard with the Sacramento Kings, "A lot of those drills I still use today."
By season's end Bibby and Pastner had become roommates. Arizona finished fifth in the Pac-10 but caught fire in the NCAA tournament and stormed to the national title.
Pastner averaged just 0.9 points a game in four seasons but contributed in other ways. By his senior year he was scouting opponents, breaking down film and running the scout team at practice. After serving as a graduate assistant, administrative assistant and recruiting coordinator, last summer he was hired as a full-timer.
Pastner makes no bones about his goal of being a head coach. In the summer of '98, following his sophomore year at Arizona, he applied for the vacant Los Angeles Clippers head coaching position. Since then he has sent his résumé whenever an NBA head job has opened. The last two summers he has pursued Division positions at Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern. Both times he visited the campuses uninvited, introducing himself to the president and the athletic director. He was seriously considered by each school. Prairie View athletic director Charles McClelland ultimately chose Jerome Francis Jr., 10 years Pastner's senior, but says, "Josh is going to be a heck of a coach someday."
Meanwhile Pastner will continue his tireless efforts for the Wildcats. He sleeps four hours a night and is at his office daily by 7 a.m. He lives in a one-bedroom apartment 10 minutes from campus, stocks only milk and cereal in the kitchen and uses plastic forks and paper plates. "I'm a different dude," says Pastner.
"He's way beyond his years in terms of his understanding of the game," says Olson. "I think he really wins over guys with his dedication to making them better."
Still, Rosborough tries to find Pastner some nonbasketball interests—namely female companionship. "I feel very lucky to know exactly what I want to do," says Pastner. "Whoever I date is going to have to understand that this is who I am."