Down the road from Memphis, Pastner reunites, reflects

Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner reacts during an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the NIT against Mississippi on Tuesday, March 21, 2017, in Oxford, Miss. (Bruce Newman/The Oxford Eagle via AP)

There was a bit of poetic justice in the air Tuesday night at the Pavilion at Ole Miss.

A year ago, Josh Pastner was a coach under the gun at Memphis, having finished the season at 19-15 that had Tigers fans furious with their team’s failure to make the postseason for two consecutive seasons and maintain the lofty standards set by former coach John Calipari. It was widely speculated that only his $10.6 million buyout was keeping him in his job. When he was a surprise hire at Georgia Tech last April, Memphis fans rejoiced over his departure.

On this evening, the ACC coach of the year brought a team that had been projected to be among the weakest among the power conferences with a spot in the NIT semifinals on the line. And, in front of about 50 friends who made the roughly 85-mile trip down from Memphis, Tenn., and several media members from the market who had witnessed – and perhaps helped create – the toxic atmosphere that Pastner said helped cause what he calls internal depression, his team was the convincing winner. The Yellow Jackets played one of their most complete games of the season in beating Ole Miss 74-66 to earn a spot in the NIT semifinals next week in New York.

It might not have been a victory lap for Pastner. He said he has already cleansed himself of the emotional baggage from his time at Memphis. He has said previously that he doesn’t want to play the “I told you so” game . But the opportunity to share a personal triumph with those who knew him well at Memphis, and those who chronicled his time there, swirled in a different mix of emotions to the night.

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