TODAY'S PAPER
Good Afternoon
CLOSINGS
Good Afternoon
SportsColumnists

Villanova’s Eric Paschall played at Fordham under former Hofstra coach Tom Pecora

Eric Paschall #4 of the Villanova Wildcats dunks

Eric Paschall #4 of the Villanova Wildcats dunks in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2018 NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at the Alamodome on March 31, 2018 in San Antonio, Texas. Credit: Getty Images / Tom Pennington

SAN ANTONIO

Imagine dropping a basketball court in the middle of a prairie, or hoisting one atop a platform inside the space shuttle’s hangar. That is how disorienting it feels for college basketball players to play the climactic games of their lives in a vast domed stadium. The setting for the Final Four is majestic, but it sure takes some adjusting.

“At first, we all thought the rim looked small. It kind of messed with our eyes. We just kept shooting and kind of got used to it,” said Villanova’s Eric Paschall, who has done enough to earn a graduate degree in adjustment.

Paschall left Fordham when the coach who recruited him was fired. He since has slimmed down, grown up and become a major force for a team that will face Michigan for the NCAA championship Monday night.

The 6-9 forward has blossomed into the team’s top defender, and he shot so well in a drubbing of Kansas on Saturday night (10-for-11, 4-for-5 from three-point range) that he made the rim look as wide as the moon.

“He’s just wonderful. He’s a good student and a great kid,” Tom Pecora said on the phone from his home on Long Island, having watched his former Fordham recruit have the best game of his life in the biggest game of his life.

Pecora saw this kind of potential in Paschall before just about anyone else did, back when the forward was a sophomore at Dobbs Ferry High School. He attended the camp that Pecora ran at Fordham, the university that had hired him away from Hofstra. Sean Pecora, then 9 years old, watched a workout one day and told his dad (in the father’s recollection), “This guy is way too good to be playing with the rest of those guys.”

Villanova eventually did recruit Paschall, but he said before practice Sunday, “It was like two days before I committed to go to Fordham.”

In other words, too late.

The kid did fine at Rose Hill, winning the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year award. But the Rams were not so hot, and Pecora was let go. “It was a weird day,” Paschall recalled. “I was at my girlfriend’s house and I get a text from my mom that said, ‘Did you see what happened?’ I had no idea.”

One thing he knew for sure: He was going to change schools. Said Pecora, “When they decided to make the change at Fordham, he came to see me and said, ‘Coach, where should I go?’ ” The now-former coach had only one suggestion, which he made really quickly.

Pecora is one of the world’s foremost experts on Villanova coach Jay Wright, having been his assistant and successor at Hofstra. Wright on Sunday told the story about visiting a recruit in Queens and being told by the player’s mother that the word was that Hofstra was going to dump the coaches. Wright recalled being furious and incredulous until he listened to Pecora: “He said, ‘Jay, we’ve lost for three straight years. We might get fired!’ ”

The two men survived those rumors. Their close friendship endures to this day.

Pecora is an assistant coach at Quinnipiac, working under Wright’s former Villanova lieutenant, Baker Dunleavy. Wright and Pecora exchanged texts early Sunday, hours after Paschall’s big game and hours before Wright spoke of Paschall during the workout-day news conference: “I had watched him play for Tom and I talked to Tom about him and he told me how great he was.”

Pecora still uses the word “great” to describe Paschall’s parents and is beyond pleased about how everything has worked out for his former recruit: “You know what? This would have been a great experience for him even if they had never gone on this run.”

That, like Paschall on Saturday, was right on target.

New York Sports