“I’m starting to believe that Josh has the personality,” Jackets legend Dennis Scott said. “I like how he’s tweaked his system to fit his players. That lets me know he knows what … he’s doing. I think that’s half the battle.”
Cremins, whose loyalty to Tech has never wavered since retiring from Tech in 2000 (he returned to coach six seasons at College of Charleston before retiring again in 2012), can hardly believe what he has seen.
“The transformation’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s incredible for a team to be picked last, next to last, and to do what they’re doing. To me, it’s one of the best stories in college basketball right now. Again, you’ve got to give Brian (Gregory) some credit, but Josh Pastner has taken this group together, and it’s amazing. And everybody feels it.”
Pastner stayed briefly at the reception, accepting well wishes before addressing the gathering. He joined the tradition of ribbing Cremins, who felt compelled to ask Pastner for permission to attend practice or obtain tickets.
“I say, ‘Coach — your name is on the floor,’” Pastner said to laughs. “‘If you want to coach the team, I’ll move over. You’ve earned that right.’”
Among those who wanted to meet him was former player Jack Mansell, who has the distinction of being Cremins’ first recruit and a roommate of Jackets legend Mark Price.
“Hey, I want to tell you this is some of the best coaching I’ve ever seen,” Mansell told Pastner.
Mansell acknowledged later that he was initially as doubtful of Pastner as many Tech fans, who wondered why then-athletic director Mike Bobinski had hired a coach whom Memphis fans were thrilled to see leave. He said he even called his buddy Price, now in his second season at Charlotte, and said he should sit tight for a couple seasons and then scoop up the job after what he thought was Pastner’s seemingly inevitable failure.
“I’m just seeing disaster,” Mansell said.
But Mansell, a season ticket holder who records games to review after he returns home, has been floored. He likes the unselfish ball movement, the Princeton-style backdoor cutting and the belief that Pastner has inspired.
“With as little (talent) as he has and with as little expectations, a lot of times (when such teams win), you go, it’s mostly coaching,” Mansell said. This season, “I mean, it’s almost all coaching. I can’t think of many other coaches that could get as much as he’s gotten out of it.”
Former Tech players, who have longed for a team that could attain the heights once achieved during the tenures of Cremins and Paul Hewitt, have found hope in Pastner, his staff and the team.
“It’s unbelievable,” said James Forrest, the former All-ACC forward and the MVP of the 1993 ACC tournament. “We’re just so proud because it’s just been so long to be able to come to these games and see sellout crowds and just see the kids play so hard and coaches have their attention. It’s special right now.”
In fairness, Tech sold out games during the Gregory tenure, and effort was a hallmark of his teams. Still, it’s hard to dispute the results.
“The kids that Brian brought in here are playing unbelievable basketball,” Cremins said. “I just can’t believe this quick turnaround. I can’t get over it.”
On Pastner’s radio show Monday night, a caller who identified himself as “Ken from Atlanta” turned out to be legend Kenny Anderson.
After seeing a tweet promoting the show, “I said, let me call in and congratulate you on a great start, a great season so far,” Anderson said. “I’m excited the program is going in the right direction. I love watching you guys play.”
As hopeful as he is, Scott has an eye that remains true. He said that the bottom line will be bringing in-state talents such as Pace Academy’s Wendell Carter (bound for Duke) and Jonesboro High’s M.J. Walker (undecided) to Tech and adding out-of-state stars, as he and Anderson once were.
Until that happens, “it’s going to be hard to compete. But the energy, the effort, they play hard — that’s worth watching,” Scott said. “That’s worth watching.”