Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Pastner: Pitino Deserves a Standing O for Helping Memphis; Louisville Coach Still Wants to Add Temple
NEW YORK — Big East Commissioner John Marinatto may not want to give Rick Pitino any credit for Memphis coming to the Big East, but Josh Pastner certainly does.
“We play Louisville next year as part of a home-and-home series,” Pastner, the Memphis coach, told SNY.tv during Thursday’s edition of “The Big East Report.”
“I really believe Coach Pitino deserves a standing ovation when Louisville comes here because one of the main reasons we got into the Big East was through Coach Pitino’s public politicking for us to get in.”
Pitino told SNY.tv last fall that Memphis would be “an awesome addition” to the Big East in the wake of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia leaving, and reiterated those comments Thursday on “SiriuxXm’s Inside College Basketball” with Jeff Goodman and Bruce Pearl.
“In terms of the culture of Big East basketball, we needed an inner city school, a Top 20 program, and right now we get Memphis who would automatically now become the second largest crowd,” Pitino said.
“They average 16,500. They’ll average 18,000 now being in the Big East. This is going to sound shocking to you but their APR would be second in the Big East. Their facilities would rank them in the top 5 in the Big East. So we needed this, a big shot in the arm for us. I think we’re going to probably still add one more team.”
Consistent with comments he previously made to SNY.tv, Pitino still believes Temple could be that team.
“Me personally, it’s Temple,” he told Goodman and Pearl. “But, you know, I’m not the commissioner and I’m not the presidents. People say that Villanova is fighting it. I don’t understand because South Florida had to say, ‘Look, we don’t like it but we’ll take Central Florida. If that’s in the best interests of the conference, we’ll do it.’ And Villanova’s going to have to say, ‘If it’s in the best interests of the conference, we’ll do it.’
“So everybody’s gotta start thinking, the only agenda is how can the Big East be strong? Now, Temple, I think, is the logical, again, it’s an inner city school, Philadelphia, great coach, great tradition. I think it’s a natural. Good football program. But I don’t know if some other people would agree with that. I’ve always said that Memphis and Temple make the most sense.”
Like Pitino before him, Pastner will be coming over to the Big East from Conference-USA, where Memphis, especially under former coach John Calipari, has at times dominated its opponents.
“I want to say that Conference-USA is a terrific basketball league,” said Pastner, whose Tigers are 17-7, 7-2 in the conference and boast 18,000 season ticket-holders. “It’s very, very under-valued. It’s very under-appreciated both locally and nationally by the media….Conference-USA does not get the respect that it deserves.”
Still, Pastner said coming to the Big East in 2013 would be an “honor and privilege.”
“I mean, the Big East, you’re talking about a league that is known as maybe the best basketball league for 20, 30, 40 years,” he said.
Paster said he had no dramatic plans to alter his recruiting philosophy once his team joins the new league.
“We’re a national program,” he said, “and we recruit nationally. You look at our last couple recruiting classes, we recruit at a very high level, we’ve signed high-level guys….This is a players’ game, and that what’s your focus is, going to get the best players.”
He will need the best players to compete in the new conference even if this isn’t your father’s Big East.
Georgetown coach John Thompson III, whose team has played Memphis the last two years out of conference, believes the Tigers are joining an elite conference.
“When you start talking about Syracuse and people leaving, all that meant is that we went from unquestionably the best basketball conference to now we’re arguably the best basketball conference,” Thompson III said on the Big East conference call.
“And so they’re coming into what is probably going to still be the best basketball conference.”
Like Pitino, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has also coached in Conference-USA and in the Big East.
Yet while West Virginia is on its way out – perhaps as early as this year – Memphis is coming in.
Asked how he thought Memphis would make the transition, Huggins said:
“That’s hard to answer because the truth of the matter is a third of the Big East was in Conference-USA when I was in Conference-USA. I mean, Rick was at Louisville, Cal was at Memphis, DePaul had Quentin Richardson, Marquette was good. Tommy [Crean] was doing a great job at Marquette.”
He added: “They’ve got a heck of a basketball program. Cal did a great job getting it going and Josh has kept it going. They’ve got a great, great fan base. Their base is absolutely terrific. They travel. You’ll see them everywhere in the league.”
Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said it was “bittersweet” that his team was leaving the Big East for the ACC, along with Syracuse.
But he said he believes the Big East did the right thing in adding schools like Memphis, Houston, SMU and UCF.
“They’ve definitely solidified the conference and we’re very glad for that and we’re glad to see that Memphis and all the other teams that they’re adding bring something,” Dixon said. “Everybody brings something different to the table and they all bring some value.
“That is key. They didn’t fill with just numbers. They filled with teams that brought a certain value and strength to the conference in different ways. And I think the plan that they’ve followed has really worked out well for the Big East.”
Now, it’s just a matter of getting Pitino that standing O in Memphis.
Follow Adam Zagoria on TwitterAnd like ZAGS on Facebook
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.