Interview with UCSB Men's Basketball Head Coach Joe Pasternack, January 22, 2023
Gaucho Hoops ("GH"): Hi Coach, can we get an update? We finished the nonconference and started the conference part of the schedule. I wanted to get your take. I've seen improvement in most of the players, and as a team. The team is getting more cohesive. Do you have any comments around that?
Joe Pasternack ("JP"): Every team is a new team. And the season is a like a lifetime. That's what it feels like. We have a lot of new players, and we're getting to know each other early, and as the season goes on, everyone gets more comfortable with each other. The best teams are the ones that really improve in January and February. Pete Newell is a mentor of mine. I was really, really close with him, and he is someone I really respect. And he used to say: with basketball, a season is divided into a golf analogy. In November and December, you're driving for show. In January, February, March, you're putting for dough. It's all about chemistry, improving, and team improvement in January, February and March.
GH: By the way, is that Pete Newell, Sr. or Pete Newell, Jr.?
JP: Pete Newell, Sr. the coach.
JP: He was at Indiana, he was coach Bob Knight's best friend. So I met him when I was at Indiana, and then at Cal. I was at Cal-Berkeley for 8 years. The name is Pete Newell Court. He would come up and spend a lot of time, and I would really spend a lot of time picking his brain and how to teach the game. He was a huge influence on my career. He would watch every Cal game when I was at Cal. We would talk weekly, and I would visit him in San Diego. He had a big influence on me.
GH: I wasn't aware of Pete Newell's influence. I knew you were under Coach Knight. Between the two of those, that's basketball royalty. They are icons, definitely.
JP: Yep. Hall of Famers.
GH: To expand on that, most teams do improve, right?
JP: No, not necessarily. A lot of teams don't improve, and they'll fizzle out. And the other things are injuries. There's so much, it's such a long season. So much can happen. And hopefully, we can keep getting better every day. We haven't practiced in 12 days. We had 5 games in 11 days, which is unprecedented. We have to do it twice this year. The schedule is the way it is, and we don't control it. All we can do is play the games. We played 5 games in 11 days, and all we had was walk-throughs. We did not have one day of real practice in 12 or 13 days.
GH: How do the players keep their conditioning up--the players who aren't playing all the time?
JP: The guys who don't play, we have them playing 3 on 3, and work out.
GH: It's visible that the Gauchos are improving, individually and as a team. Do you have any comments on the players? Miles, of course, had one of his best games ever. He's living up to what he was working on, right? Rebounding, specifically being more aggressive on the offensive boards..
JP: Miles is one of the best players in our league. He's becoming a complete player, rebounding the basketball, scoring in the post, driving the ball, and shooting 3's. And then the second part is playing really hard on defense.
GH: Does that include defending the perimeter and the post, and help defense?
JP: Yes it includes doing everything on defense. He's really, really improved. Someone like Jaquori McLaughlin is a great example--someone who wasn't an All-American as a sophomore or a junior. He was just a good player. But his game took off as a senior. And I feel like Miles is doing the same.
GH: Was that over the course of the season with Jaquori? It just seemed like he was getting better and better.
JP: He really improved, but it took until his senior year. It was his 5th year.
GH: And this will be Miles' 5th year. Interesting.
JP: Yes. The biggest part is in this day and age where everybody is transferring, parents are impatient. Miles' family, Christina and Fred, believed in us, believed in our system, in our development, and wanted him to stay here. He could have left. And he could have taken a lot of NIL money in other places. But it was a risk that you just don't know what's gonna happen at the next place. You know what you have here, and so...it's great. The season is young still, so let's see what happens. The final chapter hasn't been written.
GH: On that note, I've seen players transfer even multiple times, and the grass wasn't necessarily greener. They kinda digressed almost, because they had to learn a new system, had new coaches, new staff, new players, new teammates.
That's great, this is a great example of patience paying off with Miles. With Ajay, he rocketed up the second half of his freshman season. It's obvious his game has improved. Do you have any comments on his play and his leadership?
JP: Ajay is so wise and mature beyond his years. He may be the most mature young man, as a freshman and sophomore that I've ever coached. And poised, really poised, so I think he'll keep improving.
GH: That poise was tested, because the opponents are getting pretty physical with him. He bulked up this summer, so that's good. He needs it. What about Andre? How has his transition been, after transferring in from Cal?
JP: Andre is really doing well. Everybody's expectations on everything, whether it's our team, or individual players--expectations are always very unrealistic. You have to understand Andre had 3 coaches in 3 different systems in 5 years. As a coach, I understand that's really, really hard. Basketball is a game of habit. That's a Pete Newell statement. And when your habits with one coach in year 1 where he is teaching you one thing on defense and offense, then years 2 through 4, it's another thing, and then your last year, you have to learn a totally different scheme and system. It's going to take time. And I think we'll see Andre just get better and better.
GH: It seems like he already has improved. He had injuries and illnesses, so he's really stepped up. Plus, his state of mind has to be really good, being on a winning program now. <laughs>.
JP: Yeah well, he came here to win, so he's really enjoying himself--he loves Santa Barbara. He's very grateful to be here.
GH: That's great to hear. Yeah. Let's talk about Josh. Fans call him JPL. How has he developed?
JP: Josh got sick--food poisoning before the UCI game, so he didn't play in that game. We had 7 players out from food poisoning for the UCI game. Josh is really, really locked in to being the best defender he can possibly be. Great, great rebounder. And he just gives us so much energy and toughness.
GH: He's a pretty good finisher, too. <laughs>
JP: He is--I'd like him to finish even more.
GH: How about Ajare?
JP: Ajare has had a lot of injuries--his ankles--obviously, at Hawaii last year. It was really bad. And in the tournament. He's just been through so much, injury-wise. He's just finally getting really healthy, so I'm expecting him to have a great finish in conference.
GH: He seems to be confident on his shot lately. He seemed more tentative earlier in the year. Let's talk about the bench. Let's start with Cole.
JP: I'm really excited about Cole. Like all players--he's only a sophomore, and expectations are unrealistic. Everybody wants it now. Some players don't play well until their junior or senior year. That's the way it used to be in college basketball. Now it's a microwave society. Everybody wants it now and unfortunately it doesn't work like that. You have to learn the college game, you have to learn how to defend, you have to learn nuances and how we defend in different ways, and he has just skyrocketed his ability to defend, his position both off the ball and on the ball, His improvement on defense is as good as any I've seen in a college basketball player. He was a huge liability last year on defense. Everybody would say "you're not playing Cole enough, you're not playing Cole enough." Well, he wasn't very good defensively, and he knew that. But to his credit, he's worked extremely hard this last summer and all fall, and he's improved tremendously. And even from the fall to now, it's night and day. I mean he guarded DJ Davis from UCI, and he just loves the game, works his tail off, and is one of our hardest workers, and again, he's not even halfway through conference season of his sophomore year. He's going to get better and better. But he's only a sophomore. Obviously, he's a weapon offensively, but because everybody just looks at his shooting, they don't notice the defense.
GH: You gotta play defense in your system.
JP: Yeah, you can't be a liability on defense.
GH: With his on ball defense, is it because he has physically improved his quickness? But you're saying he's learning the system, so his help defense is better.
JP: Yep, everything. He can do off-ball, on-ball defense. He's improved tremendously, and it's great to see.
GH: This is a really interesting topic on the message boards. KK? Can you comment on him?
JP: I told our team on Friday, after he had 11 rebounds the night before. In today's world, families, coaches, high school coaches, people, parents, players, they judge all their happiness and success by the jumpshot, scoring, points. Well, it's really refreshing to have a young man like KK, where he doesn't care if he scores. All he wants to do is help the team win, in whatever role--and accept his role. A lot of people know their role--but they don't accept their role. But KK accepts his role and plays SO hard. Rebounds, motor, and he's an energy GIVER, not an energy vampire. You put him in a game, the whole game changes--from an energy level. I'm just so happy for him--he's just the greatest young man in the world. Again, in a age where there's so much selfishness in college basketball and sports, he's the most unselfish kid I've coached.
GH: That's a big statement. Coming in from high school, he was a big-time scorer, right?
JP: He can score. But the point is, the other night, he effects winning. He had 11 rebounds and I don't think he scored. I think he only took 1 shot. Those guys that effect winning. How do you guard a ball screen? People don't even think like that. How do you block out? It's the little details of winning.
GH: Wow, yeah, he got 11 rebounds in 18 minutes. <laughs> That's a crazy stat. So Calvin, I really like his game, 'cuz he's aggressive. He doesn't just shoot 3's--he takes it to the hole. He makes things happen. He's strong to the cup.
JP: Yeah, Calvin is a rock of our team--he's one of the most competitive players we have. He's a great young man. He's another very unselfish player He's come such an amazing way in the last year. From last year to this year, he's completely different. Coachable kid, who has really effected winning with his toughness.
GH: That's a great word for him: toughness. When you say unselfish, he doesn't care if he comes off the bench or starts?
JP: Correct. He just plays hard. He doesn't care. He's a senior, could have had an attitude, but he just wants to win. He's our 6th man, and I think he should be the 6th man of the year in our league.
GH: I hope he gets it--he deserves it. What about Evans? He's starting to play a little more.
JP: Yeah, we're getting Evans and Matija into the game. We want to keep developing our bench. We're playing right now 8 guys. People say, "well, there's Joe Pasternack, he only plays 8 guys." You go look at Arizona who played UCLA, the #4 team in the country--Arizona played 7 players. Gonzaga plays 7.5 players, meaning one players plays 4 minutes. So we're playing 8 players right now. And if we could get a 9th to contribute, that would be terrific.
GH: That's great. They're sophomore and freshman, respectively?
GH: If you keep getting convincing wins, they'll get to play more and develop more. It's a team effort. Any comments for the rest of the conference season--and the next game against Hawaii on the road?
JP: They're really, really good. They're a great defensive team--they're very hard to beat at their place in Hawaii. Winning on the road in college basketball is just so hard. I don't care who you're playing. And to play them is really hard. It's going to be a tough, tough match up. Our nonconference schedule--a lot of peopled talked about our schedule being such a bad schedule. I respectfully disagree. We played at Stanford and at San Jose State in scrimmages. Then we had more road games and neutral games than we've ever had--since I've been here. And we've prepared our team to play and win on the road. And I think it's really helped us in conference so far.
GH: Yep, Fresno State and Appalachian State were good teams.
JP: Fresno State beat UNLV, UCI, and Wyoming. They've had some really good wins recently. You can't assess a schedule until the season is over.
GH: Any other comments about the rest of the season?
JP: My only focus is tomorrow's practice and that we improve. We finally have a practice. We haven't had a practice in a while.
GH: Ok, thanks for a great interview and quotes.
JP: Yes, anything you ever need, just call me, ok.?
GH: Thanks Coach and good luck in Hawaii!