Look, there's only one John Calipari, and Josh Pastner has a long, long way to go to even be mentioned in the same breath as the former Memphis, current Kentucky coach in terms of not just wins, but general disdain among Tennessee fans. But he took a step in the right direction today on Sports 180 in Knoxville, commenting on the Tennessee-Memphis rivalry and his desire to discontinue the series.
You can listen to the entire interview here - Josh Ward includes some of Pastner's quotes in the writeup, but I recommend listening to the whole interview, both to hear him be very gracious about Cuonzo Martin and Tennessee's success under Bruce Pearl up front (the part Calipari always left out), and to hear how strongly and clearly he does not want to play the Vols.
To Pastner's credit, it's always refreshing to hear major college coaches display such honesty. The problem with Pastner's argument is that he can't have it both ways. He says he doesn't want to play Tennessee because he doesn't want to give the Vols an extra recruiting advantage in Memphis while the Tigers don't recruit Knoxville...then says that UT playing in Memphis every other year probably doesn't make a difference in recruiting. And he's more right here than anywhere else: while Dane Bradshaw and J.P. Prince obviously did great things at Tennessee, Wayne Chism was the only Memphis-area player that Bruce Pearl signed out of high school that became a major contributor. The Vols typically don't do well in Memphis.
It's the old Calipari argument of, "I don't think it does us any good to play Tennessee" that really drives me crazy. It does you good because Tennessee is a better basketball program traditionally, recently, and head-to-head, and your Conference USA existence could use some help in the strength of schedule department. Comparing a game against the Vols to a game against Ole Miss or Arkansas in the last six years is absurd - beating those two would've done the Tigers little to no good if they were looking for a win to boost their strength of schedule. In the last six years Tennessee was one of the best basketball programs in the entire country, and beating the Vols would've helped Memphis in the NCAA Tournament in a big way. Give Pastner credit for pointing out the obvious: his teams are 0-2 against the Vols, including a 104-84 beatdown in Knoxville last year.
The definition of an "I don't think it does us any good" game is the Tennessee-Memphis football "rivalry", and arguments of "We'll help you out in football, you help us out in basketball" are even more absurd now than they were before Pearl showed up. In the last six years, Tennessee Basketball did Memphis a favor by playing the series, not the other way around.
I appreciate the honesty, but the honesty is wrong. Pastner also sounds like a guy who clearly understands the position of his athletic director and that this rivalry is going to continue; I hope whoever ends up being Tennessee's next AD will make it a priority to not let this rivalry die, if for no other reason than we get a great deal of pleasure from taking down a program that says "You're welcome" when they should be thanking us.