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The New Boss

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So okay, we've got our mad out, we've cried our tears, or in rarer instances, some of us have actually said "Good riddance!" In any case, having gone through the stages of denial, rage, and bargaining, we are, for better or for worse, faced with

acceptance: John Calipari has gone — and taken with him athletes whose letters-of-intent to play for the Memphis Tigers became null and void as soon as the much-traveled coach signed his soul over to Kentucky.

By now, many of us have had an opportunity to meet the new boss, Josh Pastner, a Calipari assistant who, as he reminds us, schooled under "three great coaches": Calipari, Lute Olson, and Kevin O'Neill. We need not worry about the new guy's dedication. He is famous already for his three- and four-day marathons of working without sleeping. And he offered another example in a speech to members of the Memphis Rotary Club Tuesday: While serving as an assistant to Olson at Arizona, then bachelor Pastner (recently married, by the way) went to the movies with a potential fiancée. His cell phone rang. It was a prize recruit, and, after making his apologies, Pastner stepped outside to take the call.

Some three hours later, he was still on the phone, but the girlfriend was long gone. And Arizona landed the prodigy.

For better or for worse, Pastner professed himself determined to do what it takes to maintain (perhaps the right word, actually, is "restore") an "elite basketball program." Among other things, that means continuing to schedule top-rated teams from outside the underwhelming Conference-USA. "I am a realist," Pastner assures us, meaning that he knows the suddenly under-strength Tigers will have a time of it coping with such opposition (not to mention the stouter teams in C-USA). But to make an elite program work, he says, you have to get the TV exposure, and that means playing over your head if you have to.

Maybe crossing his fingers a bit, Pastner promises that the 2009-'10 Tigers will be "solid." He doesn't begrudge the blue-ribbon players who left with Calipari. The new coach insists that, sooner or later, he will have recruited his own powerhouse of "committed, talented, coachable, and competitive" athletes.

That means — and here goes "for better or for worse" one more time — going after the kind of "one-and-done" all-stars who, as under Calipari, will play one ritual year of college basketball and then offer themselves to the NBA draft. Again, you have to do what you have to do to maintain an elite program, Pastner told the Rotarians.

No reader needs to be reminded that possible irregularities in recruiting Calipari's most renowned recent one-and-done star, Derrick Rose, are thought to be the reason for an ongoing NCAA investigation into the University of Memphis program. We can only hope that, in his determination to be "realistic," the engaging young Pastner can avoid the kind of shortcuts that Calipari has been accused of by his critics.

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