Villanova's Paschall hasn't forgotten his T-More roots

Hartford — A hectic Big East championship week quickly shifted to a crazy busy NCAA tournament adventure for Villanova's Eric Paschall.

Paschall barely has had time to blink.

Yet he made sure to reach out to two of his former coaches — St. Thomas More's Jere Quinn and ex-Fordham coach Tom Pecora. Paschall spent one season at Fordham before transferring to Villanova.

Quinn received a text message from Paschall Tuesday about coming to watch him play at the XL Center on Thursday.

"He really wanted me to go," Quinn said. "He's a great kid. I was just down at the Big East (tournament) and saw him."

Quinn will be there on Thursday night when sixth-seeded Villanova (25-9) plays No. 11 Saint Mary's (22-11) in first round action. Pecora, now an associate head coach at Quinnipiac, will be busy recruiting, but he'll be there in spirit.

"We have a good relationship," Pecora said. "He's humble and at the same time he's a special kind of kid. He'll never change in that aspect. He's a gem."

During his rise in the college basketball ranks, Paschall, a star forward, has never forgotten the people that helped him along the way. He's remained in contact with Quinn and Pecora over the years as he's won Big East titles and been on two national championship teams, including last season.

Quinn and Pecora, close friends since attending the same high school in New York, have been major influences on Paschall's life.

"Both had a very big impact," Paschall said on Wednesday while sitting in the Villanova locker room. "Coach Pecora was one of the first people to recruit me. I definitely appreciated that. Coach Quinn, he's my guy. I love coach Quinn. He's done a lot for me. Always keep in touch with him to this day. He's just a great all-around guy."

"They've done a lot for me. I definitely appreciate everything that they've done and I've always kept a good connection with both of them."

Quinn helped Paschall develop as a player and person during a season at St. Thomas More in Montville.

While at Fordham, Pecora convinced the talented 6-foot-8 senior forward to join the program.

Paschall flew under the radar early on in his Dobbs Ferry (N.Y.) High School career. As a sophomore, his team attended the Fordham basketball camp.

Even Pecora's 10-year-old son, Sean, could tell Paschall had enormous potential.

"I walked over to the game and the court that Eric was playing on and Sean said to me, 'Hey, Dad, this one kid is way too good to play with these other guys.' And that was Eric. Sometimes as recruiters we think we know all the answers and my 10-year old was picking him out of the crowd. He was that good."

"... Obviously, he's a great talent. He's such a good, genuine person and then when I met his parents I understood why. They're just special people. And that's how we ended up getting him at Fordham."

When Paschall looked at prep school options after his junior year in high school, Pecora suggested checking out St. Thomas More.

Paschall was just 16 years old when he arrived on the St. Thomas More campus in 2013. He stood out, on and off the court.

"The first thing we found out about the kid, he's such a freaking athlete," Quinn said. "But he's such a nice kid. I'm coaching a 16-year old kid turning 17 whose potential is actually off the charts. But as a person, he's a pleasure to be around.

"Eric was there to grow up as a student and to develop his game as as basketball player and develop his body."

Paschall helped the Chancellors to the National Prep School championship game. He also earned NEPSAC Class AAA player of the year honors.

Major college programs came calling, but Paschall remained firm in his commitment to Fordham.

Pecora never worried that Paschall would change his mind.

"A lot of them tried to woo him and get him to turn on his commitment to us," Pecora said. "And he never hesitated with that. He stayed strong. That speaks to the kind of kid he is."

Paschall left Fordham after one season when Pecora was fired.

Paschall's college basketball journey is nearly over.

He's enjoying his best season, averaging 16.5 points and 6.2 rebounds. A unanimous All-Big East first team selection, he had 17 points and eight rebounds in Saturday's Big East title win over Seton Hall and made the all-tournament team.

He's also stepped up in the leadership department, helping fellow fifth-year senior Phil Booth guide a young team.

"It's great to see," Quinn said. "He's become a more verbal leader. Eric is very quiet, mild-mannered, respected, nice kid. Kids rise to the level of expectations of the adults around them. I think Jay Wright has expected a lot out of him. And, therefore, he fulfilled coach's wishes."

"You could see the relationship that Jay and Eric have. Eric 100 percent trusts Jay Wright. It's just a great, great, great relationship to have with your coach."

The next stop for Paschall is the NBA.

But his pro career can wait for now. He's focused on trying to help the Wildcats win a second straight national title.

"I feel like it's a whole new year and a whole new team," Paschall said. "It's a lot different. Of course, you have that on your back. Just like every other team, we're still trying to get better at this time and still hoping to keep playing."

g.keefe@theday.com

NCAA tournament

At XL Center, Hartford

Today's Games

Florida State (27-7) vs. Vermont (27-6), 2 p.m.

Marquette (24-9) vs. Murray State (27-4), 4:30 p.m.

Villanova (25-9) vs. Saint Mary's (22-11), 7:20 p.m.

Purdue (23-9) vs. Old Dominion (26-8), 9:50 p.m.

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