The latest installment in the nearly two-year-long ugliness between Georgia Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner and a vengeful former friend came in Sunday’s AJC. It is the story that won’t go away, as both sides — and their attorneys — have a seemingly unlimited supply of aspersions to cast.
Made public was Pastner’s Nov. 2017 interview with NCAA enforcement in which he “dramatically mischaracterized” his relationship with Ron Bell, a figure central to a couple serious violations hanging over the basketball program.
Pastner reportedly told the NCAA that Bell never had special access to the Tech program, yet there exists plentiful evidence to the contrary. Photos of Bell in the locker room, reclining on the trainer’s table, kneeling in the attitude of an assistant coach at practice, per Alan Judd’s story.
Pastner’s claim that he was disconnected from Bell’s efforts to improperly entice a player to transfer from Memphis to Tech was refuted by a trail of text messages between the two men.
If nothing else, Pastner is guilty of poor character judgment in the first degree for ever having associated with Bell (dating back to his time at Memphis). But the one advantage the coach always held in this mess was the high ground of believability. Hell hath no fury like a sycophant scorned, and Bell possessed all the traits of a jilted obsessive character who would do or say anything to bring down Pastner.
The two of them fell out in 2017, and a scorched earth campaign by Bell ensued. It even included allegations of sexual assault against Pastner so fanciful that no prosecutor would follow up. This story was just one boiled bunny away from being a weird “Fatal Attraction” remake. Bell would not be ignored.
The only way the coach could lose his superior footing would be to get caught in his own untruths. Ooops. The NCAA does not take kindly to that sort of thing.
So, what does the latest turn of the story mean?
Well, it remains Pastner’s fault for bringing this character to Tech’s doorstep, for introducing this influence to the program. What Pastner knew and what he didn’t matters little. The resulting chaos is on the coach.
The NCAA has yet to name Pastner in any allegation. And there seems no rush to treat these violations as earthshaking. Maybe, given the scope of abuse in college sports, they really aren’t so pressing. Maybe an all-expense-paid trip to Arizona for a couple players and a strip club excursion for a recruit (traced to former assistant Darryl LaBarrie) barely register anymore. We’re all allowed to be that jaded now.
Pastner still owns the advantage in his battle with Bell. Not because his own credibility is unassailable — that has been effectively assailed. But rather because of the sheer unreliability of his accuser.
All through this ugliness, there has been this feel of mutually assured destruction; nobody would get out unscathed.
But I wonder about that. Pastner is 27-37 overall his last two seasons at Tech and 12-24 in the ACC. Might he survive this episode only to face a more practical, natural kind of jeopardy?
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