Arizona Basketball

UCLA’s removal of Ben Howland, USC’s hiring of Josh Pastner two potentially bad moves for Pac-12

Josh Pastner is rumored to be a potential hire to fill USC's vacant head coaching spot

Josh Pastner is rumored to be a potential hire to fill USC’s vacant head coaching spot is reporting two major potential developments within the Pac-12: Ben Howland coaching his last game for UCLA on Friday and Josh Pastner a possible permanent replacement for Kevin O’Neill at USC.

Both moves would be a mistake.

Pastner, the former Arizona assistant coach and player under Lute Olson, will not find immediate success at USC as he has at Memphis, taking the Tigers to three consecutive NCAA tournament berths. The Trojans do not value their basketball program as much as their traditionally strong football operation, and the Galen Center is the worst arena in the Pac-12.

Pastner has recruited well in Tennessee. Eight of his players are from that state. Normally a strong recruiter in Texas — Pastner hails from Houston — he has only one player from Texas on his roster (senior guard D.J. Stephens). Pastner will not recruit with similar success in California, competing against the likes of Mark Few, Steve Alford, Sean Miller, Mike Montgomery, Dana Altman, Lorenzo Romar and maybe Howland.

Moreover, Pastner would have to coach and recruit against his alma mater on a consistent basis, which will not be easy on him. He still has plenty of Arizona ties, including his mentor, Olson, and one of his Memphis assistant coaches, Damon Stoudamire.

If Pastner and Stoudamire left Memphis for USC, that would alter the chemistry they have generated with Tucsonans and UA followers. Why? Arizona and USC go after the same prize — the Pac-12 title and heralded recruits in California. Arizona followers have also held a particular disdain for USC and UCLA, viewed as the holier-than-thou standard-bearers of the conference when Arizona joined the Pac-10 in 1978.

When Larry Smith left Arizona for USC in 1986, taking All-American Ricky Hunley with him as an assistant coach, the Wildcat faithful looked at Smith and Hunley differently when the teams played each other. After Smith and Hunley left USC, it took a few years for them to get back in the good graces of most Arizona fans.

Of course, Pastner must do what’s right for himself and his family, but he must keep his long-term career plans in mind. I believe he is coaching in the right region, away from Arizona. If an opportunity arises in the SEC, ACC or Big 12 he should take that chance. He should steer clear of the Pac-12 and possibly even the Mountain West for the reasons I mentioned.

As far as UCLA is concerned, Howland deserved to be on the hot seat earlier this season when the Bruins were struggling despite their heralded recruiting class. Recent defections and well-publicized player issues involving Joshua Smith and Reeves Nelson added fuel to the fire concerning Howland’s hot seat.

A loss to Cal Poly at Pauley Pavilion in November seems like it happened in a different season after the Bruins were able to win the regular-season Pac-12 title and beat rival Arizona three times.

The writing may be on the wall for another struggle early next year with Shabazz Muhammad leaving to the NBA and Jordan Adams having to rehabilitate from a broken foot. UCLA fans are not thrilled with the idea of another slow start.

Replacing Howland will not cure that issue, however. He has proven over the years to be a capable coach and efficient enough to turn UCLA’s fortunes around. If Adams did not get injured at the end of the Arizona game, some media pundits would be labeling UCLA a Final Four team.

People lose sight of what continuity means to the image of a program. Arizona became what it is now because Olson coached 24 years in Tucson.


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Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner


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