Huge void left by larger-than-life Paschall
1/5/12 - 01:55 PM

The truth is the toughest dude on the block.

Apache Paschall had many sayings, but that one was my favorite. The way he explained it to me was simple. The truth is something people are afraid to face. They don’t want to see it.

Paschall had it wrong, though. He was the toughest guy on the block. Or at least the toughest guy I knew.

The iconic Nazareth girls basketball coach did everything his way – right until the end.

Paschall, 38, died Tuesday of a heart attack after a four-month battle with a form of skin cancer. He was diagnosed last year with congestive heart failure and I’m no doctor, but that had to play a part in his untimely, tragic death.

He probably should not have attempted to coach this season, not while undergoing radiation treatment multiple times per week. But you couldn’t tell Paschall he couldn’t or shouldn’t do something. It never worked.

Everything was on his terms and that’s what I liked most about him. He was an epic non-conformist and that was apparent most last year when he and his St. Michael Academy program came to Nazareth and more stringent CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens.

Immediately he was made to wear button-down shirts, slacks and shoes instead of a t-shirt, jeans, boots and a towel. He fought that as hard as he could, hanging out in the gym during home games with his regular attire until changing just before opening tip.

Soon after there were allegations of illegal recruiting, which he eventually beat. But not before being suspended for two games by principal Providencia Quiles for breaking her media gag order – by talking to me in an exclusive Q&A.

I picked him up from Bishop Kearney for that interview and gave him a lift to his Lower East Side apartment. For about three hours, we talked about everything one could imagine. From his mother going to jail when he was 10 years old to refusing to miss his daughter’s birthday when he should have been in the hospital with his heart issue.

Paschall pushed everything to the limit. He got every ounce out of life. He bent the rules, made sure everyone knew it, but didn’t completely break them. When he did break them, he found a loophole.

He was tough in that way, too. Tough to figure out. Even when you knew him, you weren’t sure if you really knew him. Over the summer, his BlackBerry Messenger status read “I’ve spent so much time being Apache, that I forgot who Robert is.”

Apache, in many ways, was a character, a larger than life figure. Smart. Cunning. Ruthless. But also caring and protective over his players. He loved the spotlight. He thrived on controversy. He harbored an “us against the world” mentality within his programs, St. Michael Academy, Nazareth and Exodus.

Paschall was different than those who came before him. He was black and from the projects in what was largely a white girls basketball coaching community. But he was also extremely charismatic and related to those of all races and creeds.

Ultimately, he gave hundreds of girls an opportunity they may never have had if not for him. So many would have never been able to afford a travel basketball program, especially one like Exodus, which became one of the most successful in the United States.

Paschall opened up many doors, got hundreds of players scholarships. He was controversial and had many haters, but it’s hard to argue that he did far more good than bad for girls basketball here and across the country. Don’t take it from me; just ask the girls who played for him.

In New York City, he changed the landscape. It once was Christ the King and Murry Bergtraum every year. Now the talent is spread out across the five boroughs. Paschall made people realize they didn’t have to go to those places to get exposure and be successful.

He’s gone now and there will never be anyone else like him.

Paschall was a lightning rod, a leader. People followed him – “Walk with me” was one of his top catch phrases. He was successful with two New York State Federation Class AA titles. Nazareth started the season No. 1 in the country. Exodus is a national name in travel girls basketball.

In 15 years, the tough dude from the Lower East Side projects changed everything we knew about girls basketball. He turned the sport on its ear.

Love him or hate him, the man was a legend. A hero to many. He’ll be greatly missed.

And that’s the truth.

mraimondi@nypost.com

 

Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/blogs/marc_raimondi/raimondi_huge_void_left_by_larger_PB3PghlmqQHBwFRffhhQ7M#ixzz1lklpjSwT

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