Joe Pasternack is good at self-evaluation. When he finished his career as a high school player in New Orleans a dozen years ago, he realized his best bet to make it to the big time in basketball was to get into coaching.
"I knew I wasn't going to play in the NBA, but I also knew I wanted to have a career in basketball," Pasternack said.
So, Pasternack decided to attend Indiana University and serve as a student manager under legendary coach Bob Knight, sort of like taking an honors course in the sport.
That turned out to be a shrewd move. Following four years at Indiana and eight more seasons as an assistant at California under Ben Braun, Pasternack has returned, at the tender age of 30, to be the head coach at the University of New Orleans.
"It's really a dream come true because this is the college basketball team I grew up watching," said Pasternack, who was a kid when Tim Floyd was coaching the Privateers to NCAA Tournament bids in the 1980s with Ledell Eackles and Earvin "Not Magic" Johnson as the star players. "It has just been an unbelievable experience to come back to home and be a head coach. I feel very blessed and very fortunate."
New Orleans feels blessed to have Pasternack, too, as he has quickly provided stability to a program that has had little since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Crescent City in 2005. The Privateers are off to a 2-0 start, including an upset of No. 21 North Carolina State last Sunday in Raleigh, their first win over a ranked team since 1993 and first victory over an Atlantic Coast Conference school since 1991.
"It was a great, great win for us, but what really made it special for me was the joy it brought to our players," Pasternack said. "Those guys have been through a lot, especially the seniors. It hasn't been easy for them and it's good to see them be rewarded."
The hurricane wiped out the first semester of the 2005-06 school year and forced the Privateers to move to Tyler Junior College in Texas. The Privateers' 9,000-seat Lakefront Arena is still under repair, forcing home games to be played in the 1,200-seat Human Performance Center.
Furthermore, Pasternack is New Orleans' third coach in three years. Monte Towe left after the 2005-06 season to become an assistant at North Carolina State, his alma mater, and Buzz Williams bolted after one season to take an assistant's job at Marquette.
In fact, Towe's departure is the reason New Orleans played North Carolina State. The Privateers got the Wolfpack to agree to a three-game series in exchange for releasing Towe from his contract.
The turnover in the coaching staff has also meant a turnover on the roster as only nine scholarship players remain. The latest coaching change was particularly damaging, as Williams didn't resign until July.
However, New Orleans does have some talent, including senior guard Bo McCalebb, who was the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year last season when he averaged 25.0 points a game. He scored 20 points in the win at North Carolina State.
Another player to watch is junior forward T.J. Worley, a transfer from Delaware State, who banked in the game-winning three-pointer with 1.7 seconds left against the Wolfpack. Meanwhile, junior forward Kendall Dykes, a transfer from Navarro Junior College in Texas, scored a team-high 19 points in the 72-66 season-opening win over Northwestern State in his Privateers' debut.
"We've got a good group of players, but we're very thin and depth is going to potentially be a problem," said Pasternack, whose team visits city rival Tulane on Saturday. "We've played well so far but we've got a long way to go."
Braun, for one, is certain Pasternack will keep New Orleans headed in the right direction.
"I'm so happy for Joe to have the opportunity to coach in his hometown," Braun said. "Joe worked his way up from video coordinator in our program. He worked as hard as any coach I've ever seen and he wants to win as much as anyone I've ever known. He deserves this opportunity and I'm sure he is going to make the most of it."
The National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame inducted its second class last weekend in Kansas City, Mo. The headliner was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who led UCLA to three straight national titles and an 88-2 record back when was known as Lew Alcindor.
"I'm very happy to be involved in this event this season because college basketball is so important to the young people who play this game," Abdul-Jabbar said during his acceptance speech.
"When I was in grade school and had my aspirations as a basketball player, college basketball was it. I was so fortunate to get that opportunity and make it through the system the way I did."
Other players honored were Tennessee A&I's Dick Barnett, Notre Dame's Austin Carr and Duke's Dick Groat, who is more famous for the being the 1960 National League Most Valuable Player as the Pittsburgh Pirates' shortstop.
Coaches Vic Bubas, Lefty Driesell, Guy Lewis and Norm Stewart were also inducted along with founding fathers Phog Allen, Henry Iba, John McLendon and Adolph Rupp.
The National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame was created last year to honor players and coaches who have had a lasting impact on the college game. Members of the Naismith Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., are also eligible for induction.
The EA Sports Maui Invitational, the class of all the in-season college tournaments, is in the books for another year. Duke came out on top of the eight-team event in Lahaina, Hawaii for a record fourth time by beating Marquette in the final.
"We look at it as a mini-Cameron, it's nice and intimate," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of the Lahiana Civic Center. "We love coming here and have been a little bit lucky and our guys have played really tough. We'll come back, I know that."
Duke won't be able to return until at least 2011 under NCAA rules, which allow school to play in a specific exempt tournament once every four years.
While everyone waits for Duke to return to paradise, the next two fields have been set.
The 2008 field will include Alabama, Indiana, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Oregon, Saint Joseph's, Texas and host Chaminade. The 2009 field will consist of Arizona, Colorado, Gonzaga, Louisville, Maryland, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin and Chaminade.
The Team of the Week is West Virginia, ranked No. 1 in the Pomeroy Ratings going into Friday's action. Bob Huggins' homecoming has been happy so far, after the coach left Kansas State after one year to replace John Beilein, who left for Michigan following the Mountaineers' run to the NIT title last season.
West Virginia has won its first two games handily, whipping Arkansas Monticello 81-53 and Prairie View A&M 106-41 in Morgantown. Junior guard Alex Ruoff leads five players who are scoring in double figures with a 19.5 average. The others are senior center Jamie Smalligan (12.5), sophomore forward Da'Sean Butler (11.5), senior point guard Darris Nichols (11.5) and junior forward Joe Alexander (11.0). Ruoff, Nichols and Alexander were starters last season and Butler was the sixth man.
A better read on West Virginia will be gained Friday night, though, when the Mountaineers play Tennessee (4-0), ranked seventh in the AP poll, in the Legends Classic at Newark, N.J.
"Tennessee concerns me because they have everyone back," Huggins said. "We will find out our weaknesses. Teams like that exploit weaknesses."
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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