A week after the NCAA levied a postseason ban and scholarship and recruiting restrictions on his team for major NCAA violations that began months into his tenure, Georgia Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner expressed his sorrow for the penalties and, while the NCAA report did not cite him for wrongdoing, recognized that the buck stops at his desk.
“I understand that. That’s why I’ve said that I’m sorry for all this to happen,” Pastner told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday in his first interview since the penalties were announced Sept. 26. “And, you know, we do the best job that we can, and I’ve tried to do the best job that we could in all my time to be good in all areas, which includes compliance. I recognize that I’m the head coach and I’m in charge of the program, and good, bad and indifferent, the head coach is in charge.”
Speaking in his office in the Edge Center, Pastner declined to go into specifics about the violations, the penalties or how he plans to guide his team through a season in which the NCAA tournament is not a possibility (barring a successful appeal of the postseason ban), sometimes avoiding questions entirely.
Pastner was asked why he did not report former friend and booster Ron Bell when Bell told him that he was trying to recruit then-Memphis player Markel Crawford to Tech – which athletic director Todd Stansbury said in retrospect he wished Pastner had done as “that would have taken on most of the issues surrounding Ron Bell right then and there,” but also which the NCAA did not find to be a violation.
Pastner responded, “That’s all in the past. We play North Carolina State on Nov. 5. All that other stuff’s just in the past. We’re moving forward. How about Oct. 27? We’re playing Alabama (in an exhibition game).”
When it was suggested that, even if the violations were in the past, Tech fans might still want an explanation, Pastner responded, “I know the fans want us to have a great season, and our focus right now is for North Carolina State Nov. 5.”
Pastner also was asked if he understood that a portion of the fan base was not happy with him for the team’s under-.500 play in the past two seasons as well as the damage that the NCAA violations have caused.
He first offered a reminder that he has a five-year process and also that, had guard Josh Okogie not left after the 2017-18 season for the NBA draft, “we probably would have been in the tournament already” before addressing the substance of the question.
“This is Yellow Jacket nation’s team,” Pastner said. “I totally understand that fans want us to win more. That’s why I am focused on making sure this team is prepared for this season. Yellow Jacket nation is going to really fall in love with this group.”
Pastner spoke at length of his love for Tech, his team, staff, Stansbury and his department and the school’s alumni and fans.
“I love Georgia Tech,” he said. “I love the people here and I love my job and I love coming to work. I’m sorry that this has happened.”
As for the season ahead, Pastner did not betray any disappointment over not being able to compete for Tech’s first NCAA postseason appearance since 2010, an objective that he had repeatedly expressed his intentions to achieve. Pastner said he was excited for the season to begin.
He said that, since the penalties were announced, his team has practiced with enthusiasm. While the NCAA infractions committee recommended that players be permitted to transfer and compete immediately at new schools because of the postseason ban, he said that there had been no indication that any players are considering such a move.
Asked how he was framing the season to his team – one that, barring a successful appeal on the postseason ban, will conclude with the final game of the regular season – Pastner spoke of the team’s energy and focus.
“The guys have brought it every day,” Pastner said. “There has not been one ounce of low enthusiasm or energy. Guys have been great. We are locked into having a great season. We have a chance to be really good this year.”
The NCAA penalties do not appear to have drained any of the zealous optimism that defines Pastner. Regarding the recruiting restrictions that have been placed on him and his staff for the next four seasons, Pastner said that it was “business as usual. We’re going to recruit at a high level. We’re involved with really good prospects and we’re not making any excuses or anything. We’re going to get the job done.”
Asked how impactful the restrictions would be, Pastner responded, “We’re going to continue to have great success here. I’m excited.” (One could quibble over whether, to this point, Pastner has enjoyed great success in recruiting.)
As he has often in recent months, Pastner raved about the difficulty of the schedule, which includes a road trip to Kentucky. The non-conference schedule was designed specifically to help the Jackets make the tournament.
Pastner: “Got to stay healthy, and we have the schedule to put us in a position where, that if we can do our job and have a chance to win some good games, we could,” and here he slightly hesitated “have an exciting and a memorable season.”
He later was asked to comment on the past two years, in which he has experienced considerable personal and professional strife. Pastner acknowledged “periods of toughness” but resisted the opportunity to lament.
“One of our core values, and things we talk about, is no whining, no complaining, no woe-is-me syndrome,” he said. “We just keep charging ahead and moving forward. And you take away the lessons that you learn every day and you’re ready to have a great season coming up.”
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