Two weeks after his first season as Georgia Tech’s head men’s basketball coach came to a close, Josh Pastner found himself at a friend’s Passover seder, reflecting on his first year in Atlanta.
“It’s just welcoming,” Pastner said of Passover. “You’re happy in those times, and it allows you to get back to being spiritually connected and not lose sight of the blessings that we have. It allows you to get re-centered.”
His season had ended when his team lost to TCU in the finals of the NIT. It was only the second trip to the NIT finals in school history and set expectations high for the future.
Pastner, who was named the 2017 ACC Coach of the Year, said his goal for next season is an appearance in the NCAA tournament.
“I know this sounds crazy, but I really think we would have won multiple games and possibly made a deep run in this year’s NCAA tournament,” he said. “I say that because we would have been a hard team to prepare for based on how we defended and how we played offense.”
Tech finished the regular season with a 21-16 record, not enough for a berth in the NCAA tournament, but things are looking up a year into the Pastner regime.
The Jackets this season had 17 home wins, the most in school history. Pastner attributes that success to fan support. That’s why he paid for all the student tickets to the first two rounds of NIT games at McCamish Pavilion in March.
“Some people call it tzedakah; I call it paying it forward,” he said. “The students had willed us to wins, and I wanted to give something back. It’s great for our program. I look at myself as the CEO investing back into the company. Our fan base gets us where we need to get to.”
As a student at the University of Arizona, Pastner was a regular at Friday night services. When he started coaching basketball in 2002, the demands of the job led him to attend less frequently.
To keep himself connected with Judaism, Pastner carries a copy of Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski’s “Growing Each Day” and reads it on the road.
“It keeps you grounded,” he said of the book. “Obviously, if you could live in a constant state of prayer, it would be awesome, but it’s way easier said than done. It gives you life lessons. I travel a lot, so it gives me a chance to read and make sure I don’t lose my values.”
Lessons from the book that Pastner said he conveyed to his Georgia Tech team include staying the course, taking challenges one day at a time and maintaining team unity.
Pastner has settled in the Chastain Park area with his wife and two young children and said they have not yet chosen a synagogue to join.
“I feel like I’m a recruited student-athlete,” he said. “I’ve been to multiple synagogues so far. I went to The Temple for the High Holidays. I need to find a permanent home somewhere soon because I’m a drifter right now. I want to be connected to the Jewish community here.”
Now that the season is over, Pastner is doing some recruiting of his own, which is tough at Georgia Tech because of the rigorous academics and the competition for elite talent in the ACC.
He was asked to coach the U.S. basketball team at the World Maccabiah Games this summer but couldn’t commit the time while rebuilding Tech’s program. Some of the best Jewish basketball players in the world compete in the games.
“I would love for there to be a Jewish prospect because I think we’d have an in,” Pastner said about Tech recruiting. “That being said, there just aren’t a lot of Jewish prospects out there who are good enough to play here.”
Numerous Jewish groups created programs around watching Georgia Tech basketball games this past season, including the Congregation Etz Chaim Men’s Club and Georgia Tech Hillel. On Wednesday, May 10, Pastner is scheduled to speak at the launch of the Jewish Business Network, Midtown Atlanta over breakfast.
“I think for the Jewish community it should be exciting that there is a Jewish coach at this level coaching in the ACC,” he said. “There aren’t many Jewish coaches in the game, and we need their support. The more support the better.”
What: “From Hebrew School to Hoops,” JBN breakfast
When: 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 10
Where: Selig Center, 1440 Spring St., Midtown
Cost: $36; www.facebook.com/events/1355410314520469