Erik Pastrana, who spent part of his childhood living just two blocks from the Orange Bowl, is back in Miami — this time as Florida International University’s newest assistant men’s basketball coach.
Pastrana arrives at FIU after three highly successful seasons as an assistant coach at Stephen F. Austin in Texas, where the Lumberjacks went 59-1 against Southland Conference competition.
That allowed Pastrana to coach in three straight NCAA Tournaments. And the Lumberjacks did more than just qualify — they knocked off fifth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth in the first round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. This year, 14th-seeded SFA upset third-seeded West Virginia and nearly upset sixth-seeded Notre Dame before losing 76-75.
But when head coach Brad Underwood — the man who had hired Pastrana — left on March 21 for a big contract as Oklahoma State’s new coach, Pastrana had options.
He said he could have followed Underwood to OSU for a job “in another capacity” on the staff.
But Pastrana wanted to coach, and he remained at SFA as an assistant under new boss Kyle Keller. Shortly after that, the FIU job came open.
With roots in Miami, that was intriguing to Pastrana. But he said he wanted to make sure he was the right fit for FIU head coach Anthony Evans.
“It was about a month-long interview process,” Pastrana said.
Pastrana and Evans talked almost every day for a month, but it never felt like an interview, according to Pastrana.
“We were familiarizing ourselves with each other and talking about the direction we think FIU can go, and all that meshed really well,” Pastrana said. “I had a good job at (SFA), and I wasn’t just going to go blindly to FIU.
“But I feel extremely comfortable with Coach Evans.”
Pastrana, who was a 6-2 guard, played high school basketball at Wellington, but that is as far as his playing career went. He attended Florida State and began coaching travel ball at age 19.
Former Miami High and current University of South Carolina head coach Frank Martin — a family friend of Pastrana — gave the young man a chance as a graduate assistant at Kansas State.
Underwood was also on that staff, and Kansas State at the time had two future NBA players in Michael Beasley and Bill Walker.
After two years at K-State, Pastrana served as an assistant coach at a pair of junior colleges before landing at SFA.
Now, however, Pastrana joins with Evans, who has been below .500 in all three of his seasons with the Panthers for a composite record of 44-52.
The Panthers, who also have assistant coaches Mike Gillian and Spencer Wright, have yet to figure out Conference USA, which in reputation is a step up from Pastrana’s former league, the Southland.
Pastrana said FIU’s three assistants will be involved in all areas of the program as opposed to having defined roles such as guards or post players, offense or defense.
He prefers that well-rounded approach, but FIU needs more than coaching. The Panthers likely need at least two or three players who can become all-stars in Conference USA.
Pastrana, though, believes a turnaround can happen.
“All it takes is one group of guys to buy in,” he said. “There’s plenty of talent in that locker-room. There’s no reason we can’t be one of the best teams in our conference.”