STILLWATER, Okla. — One of the architects of perhaps the greatest turnaround in Labette men’s basketball history now finds himself on a Big 12 coaching staff after a whirlwind coaching journey that’s taken him through nearly every throng of the profession.

Erik Pastrana, 35, who was an assistant coach at Labette during the 2011-12 season, was recently hired onto Mike Boynton’s staff at Oklahoma State. 

“I was excited to go to Oklahoma State for a couple reasons,” Pastrana said. “Being in the Big 12, I know how high a level basketball is played in the league and how passionate the fan bases are. At Oklahoma State especially, I know how tough Gallagher Iba Arena can be. Secondly, I’m working for somebody that isn’t just a great coach and great person but somebody I have a ton of respect for. That’s huge for this profession.” 

A native of Miami, Florida, Pastrana began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Kansas State from 2007-09 under then-head coach Frank Martin.

“Frank gave me an unbelievable opportunity to be a GA,” Pastrana said. “That really opened my eyes. I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to be a college coach.” 

During his time at K-State, Pastrana helped coach Michael Beasley and the 2008 team that ended a 24-year home losing streak to archrival Kansas. The Wildcats also won an NCAA Tournament game against USC that season. 

“It was an unbelievable time there,” Pastrana staff. “It was a great staff to be around. There’s a lot of guys who are in bigger roles now. It’s a credit to Frank just having good people around and helping us get started in the business.”

After his time in Manhattan, Pastrana coached on the AAU circuit then made the three-hour trip southeast to spend a season on Jonathan Raney’s staff at Labette for the 2011-12 season.

“That first experience was really great for me personally,” Pastrana said. “That was the moment that I decided that I was all in on being a college coach. Being all in, you have to accept that you’ll move around a lot and adapt to a lot of different situations. Moving there was a chance I took on Raney, who I really believed in.” 

During his one year in Parsons, the Cardinals went 20-11 after winning just two games the year prior. Labette advanced to the quarterfinals of the NJCAA Region VI Division I Tournament before losing to Hutchinson. 

“It was a great year at Labette,” Pastrana said. “It gave me confidence. We had a dramatic turnaround. It was a great opportunity at a place where I worked with guys I enjoyed working with. (Aaron) Keal was a great athletic director. Labette was just that first opportunity to help me grow as a man. It was my first real job.” 

The Floridian returned home after his lone season with the Cardinals as Pastrana took another assistant coaching job at Northwest Florida State, a NJCAA Division I powerhouse.

Pastrana spent one season there, with Northwest Florida State losing in the NJCAA National Championship game in 2013.

The following three seasons, Pastrana joined former K-State assistant Brad Underwood’s new staff at Stephen F. Austin, an NCAA Division I school in Texas.

Stephen F. Austin won 89 games in Pastrana’s three seasons there, making the NCAA Tournament all three years and advancing to the second round twice. 

Perhaps the most memorable moment from Pastrana’s tenure at Stephen F. Austin came in the 2015 NCAA Tournament when the 12th-seeded Lumberjacks upset fifth-seeded VCU thanks in part to a four-point play in the final seconds of regulation that tied the game. 

“We were grateful to inherit a program in very good shape,” Pastrana said. “There was already a winning culture. We just built on that. We had great guys that made that program.” 

One year later, Pastrana’s stint at Stephen F. Austin ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a one-point loss to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish won the game on a  tip-in with 1.5 seconds left in the game.

“That was probably the most crushing loss of my career,” Pastrana said. “We expected to go to the Sweet 16. When it ended like that, we were crushed. But it was a great run and great experience there.” 

The next three years saw Pastrana bounce around his home state of Florida. He spent one year as an assistant at FIU before taking over as head coach at Daytona State, a JUCO. Pastrana then spent a season as an assistant at FAU. 

“It wasn’t something I planned,” Pastrana said. “It just kind of worked out that way. FIU contacted me for their position and it intrigued me. It was just an opportunity to be back in Miami. Every decision I made was for the better, so going to Daytona gave me the opportunity to slide one chair over and be the head coach.” 

After spending last season at FAU, Pastrana joined former fellow Stephen F. Austin assistant Boynton, who’s now the head coach at Oklahoma State. It’s Pastrana’s first foray back into high major college basketball since his stint as a GA at K-State.

“I feel I’m ready,” Pastrana said. “I wouldn’t take an opportunity if it wasn’t one I was prepared for. As coaches, we’re always striving to be at the highest level. I fell in love with college coaching in the Big 12. So I wouldn’t want it any other way. I want to be at a program where the expectations are high. They’ll be just as high as I had at Labette.” 

As Pastrana continues to climb the ladder in the college basketball coaching ranks, for now he’s focused on helping get Oklahoma State back to contention in the Big 12.

“My aspirations are to do the best possible job at the place I’m at,” Pastrana said. “I’ve never gone to a place with a plan to move on. Some of my stops have been quicker than others. We all want to be Division I head coaches one day. But right now, I’m excited to be at Oklahoma State on this staff.” 

But when Pastrana looks back on the road he’s traveled, he remembers Labette for instilling him with the confidence to pursue the profession long-term. 

“The thing I love about Labette was that it was pretty simple for what we were all there,” Pastrana said. “For players, we focused on academics and athletics to correct everything. For me, I improved my craft as a coach. It made me work hard. I have an appreciation for Labette because everywhere I’ve been since, I took something I learned from Labette there.” 

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