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Florida hires Erik Pastrana as assistant men’s basketball coach

The former Oklahoma State assistant also worked with former Mike White lieutenant Dusty May at FAU.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 29 FAU at Illinois Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Florida’s men’s basketball program has been at something of a standstill during its offseason of change, with most of its player personnel moves already completed but two major holes to fill on Mike White’s staff after the departures of longtime assistants Jordan Mincy (Jacksonville) and Darris Nichols (Radford) for head coaching jobs.

On Monday, the Gators finally made a move, announcing the hiring of former Oklahoma State assistant Erik Pastrana to the same role.

“We’re really excited about Erik joining the Florida program,” White said. “He has a proven track record, coaching and recruiting at a high level everywhere he’s been and will be a great fit with our team and our staff.”

”I am beyond excited to join one of the elite programs in all of college basketball,” Pastrana said. “Having grown up in Florida, I am fully aware of the tradition and passion that comes with being a part of Florida Basketball. I don’t take this opportunity lightly and can’t wait to help continue the success this university and its fans deserve.

”I am so thankful for the past two years at Oklahoma State working alongside one of my best friends in Mike Boynton. It was going to take a special situation for me to leave Stillwater, and I found that in the University of Florida and Coach White. Let’s get to work! Go Gators!”

Pastrana served as the recruiting coordinator under Mike Boynton at Oklahoma State, and thus deserves at least some of the credit for the Cowboys’ tremendous 2020 freshman class. While presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft Cade Cunningham coming to Stillwater probably had a lot more to do with his brother, Cannen, coaching alongside Pastrana, the Cowboys also got fine contributions from forward Matthew-Alexander Moncreiffe and guard Rondel Walker, and also relied heavily on sophomores Avery Anderson and Kalib Boone, each also brought in during Pastrana’s stint as recruiting coordinator.

Pastrana also boasts deep ties in Florida, having grown up in Miami, played high school basketball at Wellington Prep, and made several stops around the state. Most recently, he coached with former White lieutenant and Florida assistant Dusty May at Florida Atlantic before decamping for the Sooner State, but Pastrana has also helmed JUCO Daytona State College; coached at Florida International; coached at JUCO Northwest Florida State College when it was one of the nation’s top JUCO basketball programs; helmed the long-running Florida Rams AAU program; and, in a bit of Florida finishing school that took place outside the state, spent two years as a graduate assistant under Frank Martin, one of the godfathers of South Florida hoops, while he was at Kansas State.

About the only thing to dislike about Pastrana’s experience, for most Gators? He’s a Florida State graduate, earning a bachelor’s in history from the school in 2007.

Pastrana would also have seemed to be tied fairly tightly to Boynton, whom he worked alongside as an assistant coach at Stephen F. Austin — quietly a breeding grounds for college basketball coaches, given the successes of Brad Underwood and Boynton and the rising star of current coach Kyle Keller — during a period of great success for the Lumberjacks. Pastrana has spent five total years as either an assistant with Boynton or a Boynton assistant, and it seems likely he’d have been welcomed back in Stillwater, with the program promoting a video of him mic’d up at practice just under a month ago.

It’s equally hard to imagine that Pastrana wasn’t integral to the Pokes’ recruitments of transfers Tyreek Smith from Texas Tech and Bryce Thompson from Kansas, each of which culminated in May. If White managed to lure Pastrana from Stillwater despite him working hard to seal deals for the Cowboys, that’s rather impressive.

And White’s staff now appears to only have one hole to fill, too. Despite rumors swirling for some time that assistant Al Pinkins, who has been credited with improving Florida’s big men considerably, would depart for Illinois, the Illini elevated staffer Geoff Alexander to an assistant position over the weekend, and Florida’s release hints at Pinkins staying in Gainesville with a declarative “Florida has one additional vacancy to fill on its coaching staff” midway through its text.

If Florida is still attempting to hire Virginia Tech assistant Christian Webster, as had been reported last week, the Gators could end up seemingly replacing Mincy and Nichols with young, energetic coaches in their vein — something that would draw praise from some corners and derision from others, given the hope that White would use this offseason’s turnover to find an offensive guru to add to his staff and address one of his program’s biggest perceived deficiencies.

But Pastrana and Webster would be coming from offensive philosophies that could scarcely be more different — the Cowboys played run-and-gun ball in 2020-21, while Virginia Tech diced up defenses with head coach Mike Young’s array of creative sets. And merely by virtue of being new and widely-traveled, they could give White a greater breadth of experience coaching offense than he had with two longtime assistants as lieutenants.

It obviously remains to be seen whether Webster is ultimately the piece to round out White’s retinue of assistants. But Pastrana, at least, should be seen as a strong hire for the Gators — if not necessarily the one desired most by fans.