As he sat courtside on the Nike EYBL cease in Cartersville, Ga. this previous Saturday night, the Division 1 males’s basketball coach wore a black hoodie with a Memphis Tigers brand, a camouflage Memphis baseball cap and a contemporary pair of blue Memphis Tiger foam posits.
It’s secure to say no different Division 1 head coach within the gymnasium — a gaggle that included Hall of Famers and would-be Hall of Famers like Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Kentucky’s John Calipari, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Villanova’s Jay Wright and Virginia’s Tony Bennett — seemed like Penny Hardaway.
His equipment even caught the attention of younger followers. One younger boy approached Hardaway and mentioned, “I like your back pack.” Hardaway responded by telling the child he might have it if he beat him in a recreation of one-on-one.
Penny Hardaway is the one D-1 head coach together with his personal shoe line. He’s obtained a mode the opposite coaches don’t. pic.twitter.com/GzD8z86FVa
— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 28, 2019
In some regards, the school basketball world belongs to Penny Hardaway proper now and everybody else is simply residing in it.
After teaching in the highschool and AAU ranks in Memphis, Hardaway is trying to type a brilliant workforce as he heads into his second 12 months on the helm of his alma mater. Having performed within the NBA, the place he was drafted by the Golden State Warriors, Hardaway needs to construct a school workforce harking back to the NBA’s reigning superpower.
“We really want to finish this class off with our last four scholarships being studs, and hopefully we can do that,” Hardaway mentioned throughout a courtside interview Saturday night. “And then the expectations go way high because you give yourself an opportunity to be mentioned in the breath of one of the teams that’s up and coming and in the right direction.”
Hardaway and his essential recruiter, former NBA participant Mike Miller, have already overwhelmed out Calipari and Kentucky for James Wiseman, the 7-foot-1 left-hander who’s the projected No. 1 choose within the 2020 NBA Draft, and onetime Kentucky commit D.J. Jeffries.
But he’s removed from accomplished.
Memphis stays a sizzling college with a number of uncommitted five-star recruits, together with R.J. Hampton (who this week reclassified to 2019 and reduce Duke from his listing), Precious Achiuwa, Trendon Watford and Lester Quinones. Depending on how issues shake out within the subsequent few weeks and months, Memphis might have two or three projected lottery picks in 2020 in Wiseman, Achiuwa and Hampton.
Hardaway believes the NBA tremendous workforce idea launched by LeBron James and the “Big Three” in Miami has now filtered down to school.
“I see it because just like in the NBA, you recruit your best friend, you recruit the guys that you played with, the guys that you like,” Hardaway mentioned. “The college kids are recruiting each other. When they go to a school, they start recruiting each other. Like last year at Duke, Coach K did his job, the assistants did their job, but the kids were kind of pulling on each other to make it work.”
Of course, with gamers of that caliber come expectations and stress. Pressure not solely to make the NCAA Tournament (Memphis hasn’t been since 2014), however to go to a Final Four.
LSU did not make the NCAA match in 2016 with finally No. 1 choose Ben Simmons, and Washington did the identical with No. 1 choose Markelle Fultz in 2017 — and each have been brazenly mocked and ridiculed.
Duke featured a historic recruiting class this season highlighted by projected No. 1 choose Zion Williamson and got here up wanting the Final Four, one thing the Duke haters haven’t did not level out nearly every single day since Duke final within the Elite Eight.
So does Hardaway perceive the stress that is to return?
“I think that we want the pressure,” Hardaway mentioned. “Being within the place that every one of us, me, Mike [Miller] and Sam [Mitchell], we had stress to get to the place we obtained to, to get to the league. So the stress of getting actually gamers after which placing that on us, and say, hey it is advisable get right here, we perceive what which means and we wish that. That means that you’ve a terrific workforce and you’ve got the chance to win a nationwide championship once they begin placing that kind of stress on you.”
Still, Memphis is sizzling proper now, there’s no denying that. Just hearken to Wiseman.
“When I committed to the University of Memphis, there was an old lady that started crying,” Wiseman instructed The Undefeated in April. “I didn’t know it was that serious. She told me that she was truly blessed to see me play next season and that I brought a lot of hope back to Memphis.”
And hearken to Greg Brown of Austin, Texas, the highest energy ahead within the Class of 2020.
“[Hardaway] is one of the all-time greats, and it’s a blessing for him to show up to one of our games to just sit there and watch because it’s like, ‘It’s Penny Hardaway there.’ Dang, it’s nice,” Brown mentioned.
Of Hardaway’s burgeoning recruiting class Brown added, “They have a goal, they’re trying to win a national championship. They’re trying to build a team of five-stars, four-stars, just a good team.”
Hardaway could also be 47 however he is aware of his enchantment is exclusive to a youthful era.
“I think not only being a former NBA player, but I think having my own shoe line but the blessing is still one of the most popular shoes lines in the country,” Hardaway mentioned.
People of a sure age bear in mind the Spike Lee/ Li’l Penny advertisements and the times when Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal teammate up in Orlando.
Asked if L’il Penny may make a return, he mentioned, “I’m sure it will be coming back.”
Tim Thomas, one other former NBA participant who’s now teaching with the NJ Playaz AAU program, believes Hardaway appeals to what right now’s children need.
“It means the world especially to be in Memphis,” Thomas mentioned. “It means the world to that metropolis and that state. You’re speaking a few man who’s been via each part of all of it and his expertise taking part in within the league, simply having a full understanding of the sport, it means the world to these guys and I’m fairly positive they give the impression of being as much as him. Just the data that he can provide these children is every little thing.”
Let’s face it, younger gamers need to get to the NBA. Calipari has despatched dozens of gamers to the league and boasts that former Kentucky gamers have mixed NBA salaries of $1.5 billion (excluding endorsements). Hardaway might not have something near Calipari’s teaching resume, however he has performed within the NBA.
“I feel it’s twofold, off the court docket and on the court docket,” Hardaway mentioned. “Playing the sport at a excessive degree, understanding what it’s prefer to get to the place I’ve already been and the place they need to go. I inform these children that we’re going to develop you, we’re going to show you and we’re going to have you ever prepared off the court docket and on the court docket to be an NBA participant.
“You don’t simply need to get via one contract and get drafted, you need to get to the second and third [contracts], and all these children need to be a significant component within the league, first-team All-NBA, on the Olympic workforce, All-Star recreation, all these issues. I can discuss from that sense as a result of I’ve been there.”
Still, Hardaway will solely coach Wiseman for six months (and every other one-and-dones, too.) How a lot teaching and improvement can he truly do in that span?
“Well, you gotta do the best you can,” he mentioned. “Every day watching film. You can speed the process up, just with some communication.” Hardaway additionally mentioned his workforce is engaged on an August journey to the Bahamas, which might give his younger participant some additional video games earlier than the season begins. “Do what Kentucky did last year,” he mentioned.
After teaching Wiseman at Memphis East High School and with Team Penny on the Nike circuit, Hardaway took over his alma mater final 12 months, signing a three-year deal price a minimum of $four.eight million,
His workforce completed 22-14 this season and made the NIT. But one of many highlights (lowlights) was a beef he had with Tennessee coach Rick Barnes after the groups performed their annual recreation. Hardaway instructed reporters on the time he thought some Tennessee gamers have been coming too near his sideline. “Rick Barnes, get the (expletive) out of right here,” Hardaway mentioned on the time.
“It’s not even a rivalry yet because coach Barnes has been successful for many years,” Hardaway mentioned in Georgia of Barnes, whose workforce was ranked No. 1 for a number of weeks this previous season. “I think what we’ve done is, make it more interesting with us being Memphis playing against Tennessee who has been a powerhouse and trying to get our game up to that level but it’s fun though.”
He added: “There was nothing personal for me I just wanted to take up for my team and it’s a heated battle. It is a war in the state of Tennessee for us because we’ve got to recruit the same kids but I just wanted to make sure I protected my team and he wanted to do the same.”
Said Barnes this previous weekend of Hardaway: “I didn’t say a word. I’ve never said one word about how Memphis played or anything and I’ve said it over and over. Penny Hardaway has done a great job there, and I think it’s good for everybody…We all end up playing each other. I think if you love basketball, you’ve got to love it.”
On prime of Hardaway and Barnes, former NBA star Jerry Stackhouse is now teaching at Vanderbilt. Like Hardaway, Steakhouse needed to relinquish management over his Nike workforce to be able to adjust to NCAA laws as soon as he turned a head coach.
The two have shared Memphis in recent times whereas Stackhouse was an assistant with the Grizzlies, though they couldn’t work together a lot due to NCAA rule..
“It positively provides one other dimension as a result of he’s a former NBA participant, performed a very excessive degree for a very long time,” Hardaway said of Stackhouse. “He can provide children that dream as effectively from Vanderbilt, so it positively makes it fascinating as a result of you may have Coach Barnes at Tennessee, Jerry at Vanderbilt and me at Memphis. And then you definitely get coach [Eric] Musselman who coached within the NBA for years [and is now] at Arkansas. It’s tight now.”
It’s tight, and now’s the time for Penny Hardaway and Memphis. His window to construct and mildew a brilliant workforce is huge open, nevertheless it will not keep open ceaselessly.
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