Commentary

Players, coaches recall Apache Paschall

Updated: January 3, 2012, 11:55 PM ET
By Chris Hansen | ESPN HoopGurlz

Robert "Apache" Paschall was most often characterized as a basketball coach. But the 37-year-old, who lost his battle with skin cancer Tuesday, also will be remembered as an advocate and a friend.

With an oversized heart.

[+] EnlargeSamantha Prahalis
AP Photo/Terry Gilliam"He's extremely loyal, and I don't trust many people, but he always had my back," Samantha Prahalis said of Apache Paschall.

"I just felt Apache would never do me wrong," said Samantha Prahalis, who played for Paschall on New York's Exodus club team and now is an All-Conference senior at Ohio State. "He was the same -- he'd always have my back. It didn't matter if we were cussing each other out or if we were on the same page and laughing. He's extremely loyal, and I don't trust many people, but he always had my back."

From his time at the now-defunct St. Michael Academy (New York, N.Y.) to his move last year to Nazareth Regional (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Paschall and his trademark over-the-shoulder towel made an impact.

Just a year ago, Paschall was under investigation by the Catholic High School Athletic Association for alleged recruiting violations. He eventually was exonerated, but controversy was stirred up nonetheless.

With the emphasis on who was transferring to Paschall's school and from where and how he contacted them, what was lost was why players chose his program in the first place.

"I just talked with Bra'Shey Ali and Jennifer O'Neill," University of Kentucky assistant coach Matt Insell said of his current players who played for Paschall at Nazareth and St. Michael, respectively. "They said they would still be on the streets of New York City if it wasn't for him."

Ali's story might be one of the better examples of Paschall's passion for the kids with whom he worked. As a senior at St. Michael, Ali verbally committed to West Virginia but never was able to enroll due to admissions issues.

"He got on the phone and begged us to give her a chance," Insell said. "He wasn't going to get off of the phone until we gave her a chance. He knew we didn't have to sign another player in the class, but he was fighting to give her a chance."

Ali made it to Kentucky and has played in seven games for the Wildcats as a freshman.

Much of the attention in the sport is given to the superstars, and in Paschall's case, there were many -- Kia Vaughn, Epiphanny Prince, O'Neill, Prahalis, Shenneika Smith, and now Brianna Butler and Bianca Cuevas at Nazareth. But the coach used his voice for all the kids in his program.

"He was the same big heart whether you were major D-I or just getting out of your neighborhood," Prahalis said.

Take Lisa Blair, a 6-foot-6 senior post who signed a national letter of intent with Ohio State this fall and earned a three-star prospect rating from ESPN HoopGurlz.

"Every ounce of anything he had went to these kids," Insell said. "It's like Lisa Blair, who might not have gone anywhere if he hadn't kept working with her."

Earl Elliotte, coach of the NYC Gauchos, says that's a point that can't be overstated.

"That's really what it's about," he said. "At the end of the day, these people are trying to help kids, keeping them off the streets and out of gangs."

Paschall's friends and colleagues celebrate the man because they understand what he accomplished and recognize that most of the kids he had an effect on had little or no means to ascend to basketball stardom or collegiate success academically or athletically without him, let alone shell out money for cross-country airfare for the NCAA-certified viewing periods.

"When you load up a bus in New York with 50 kids and go on a long trip, take basketball out of it," said Corey Hedgwood, an administrator of Texas' DFW Elite who is still mourning the death of club founder Marques Jackson, who died in April 2010. "You have the responsibility of those kids, to keep them fed, make sure their clothes are washed and find them a decent hotel to sleep in."

That was a task Paschall took seriously.

"We may show up 10 minutes before the game," Prahalis said. "But what people didn't see was he was up all night trying to get the bus."

Although Paschall -- who often wore an oversized T-shirt, usually with a big "X" on it, during the summer season -- was a part of several star players' lives, at his core he was a community man who leaves incredibly large shoes to fill. Making such a profound impact in a sport with little financial support far outweighs the controversy of competitive sports.

"I think all Exodus and Nazareth players, we're drawn to him," Prahalis said. "You have to love him; you have no other choice."

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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz, and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. He is a member of the McDonald's All-America team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at chris.hansen@espn.com.