Final Four reunion: KU assistant's one-time protege starting for Villanova
San Antonio — If Villanova were slated to play any other team in the country on Saturday at the Final Four, Fred Quartlebaum would feel like one of the Wildcats’ biggest fans.
NCAA Tournament assignments and results from the past four rounds didn’t allow the Kansas basketball program’s director of student-athlete development to become an emotionally invested spectator of another elite team, though.
Quartlebaum, per usual, will be squarely in the Jayhawks’ corner for the national semifinal. The strange twist for the high-energy, always-smiling assistant will be actively — at least for a couple of hours — rooting against someone close to him.
Now in his fifth season on Bill Self’s staff at KU, Quartlebaum first met Villanova junior Eric Paschall when the starting forward was a middle-schooler.
“He is a tremendous kid, tremendous competitor,” the upbeat KU staffer known as “Coach Q,” shared at The Alamodome on Friday.
For a short time in his coaching profession, Quartlebaum didn’t work at the college level. He was involved with a leadership and mentoring program for students in the Westchester, N.Y., area when he first met Paschall.
A Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., native, just like KU’s assistant, a young Paschall attended a Quartlebaum camp upon recommendation.
“We’ve just always kept a close relationship since then,” Paschall revealed.
A few years later, the camper became a counselor for “Q.” By the time he graduated from high school, Paschall was off to start his college career at Fordham, the same program where Quartlebaum played from 1985 to 1989.
“I had an opportunity to see him grow up, and to see what type of young man he’s become and, gosh, he’s turned out to be a terrific basketball player, which no one was surprised about that,” Quartlebaum added of Paschall, now in his second season with the Wildcats and averaging 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds after transferring from Fordham.
The two reunited on Thursday at the Final Four Fan Fest. Quartlebaum greeted his Saturday foe with a “big hug” to let Paschall know how proud he is of what he has accomplished.
“I’m gonna love you today, but come Saturday we’re gonna go head-to-head,” the coach told his former pupil. “We both just laughed.”
The reunion near San Antonio’s River Walk for the duo who grew up in a N.Y. village along the Hudson River just so happened to come at college basketball’s biggest weekend.
“We knew it was a possibility,” Paschall said of he and Quartlebaum one day finding themselves as opponents, “just knowing that I was going to Villanova and he was at Kansas. But we never really talked about it. We always just have real conversations — like how we’re doing. I always ask about his two kids, Trey and Mayson. I remember coaching them in camp, so I always keep up with them.”
It’s been easy for Quartlebaum to track Paschall’s career just through social media, with so many in the Westchester area excitedly sharing the hometown hero’s highlights. The KU assistant has consumed even more footage during the past several days of preparation, too, since sending Paschall and his father, Juan, congratulatory texts following Villanova’s victory over Texas Tech.
“The cool thing about Eric is he’s extremely humble off the court, but such a fierce warrior, competitor that’s out there,” Quartlebaum said, describing his one-time protege as a versatile and integral part of the Villanova lineup. “He can shoot the ball, he can finish at the rim. He had an unbelievable dunk (in the Sweet 16, against West Virginia big Sagaba) Konate. So he can do a lot.”
Paschall said he’s happy for Quartlebaum’s success.
“That’s my guy. Always had love for him. He’s a great dude,” the younger Dobbs Ferry representative at the Final Four said of the village’s elder statesman. “He’s always had my back and he always keeps in contact.”
Only one of the two from the small river village in New York will move on to Monday’s national championship game. It’s safe to say each will be rooting for the other from here on out — barring a March Madness rematch in 2019, that is.
“Eric has been a part of my basketball experience for quite a bit,” Quartlebaum said, “so what an honor to be here with him and celebrate this atmosphere at the Final Four.”