Memphis gets its man: Penny Hardaway to lead Tigers
Once Memphis relieved Tubby Smith of his head coaching duties the inevitable became closer to the reality, and now Penny Hardaway is expected named the head coach of the program on Tuesday, according to multiple reports. The expectations for one of the city's most famous sons are nothing short of lofty as we examine the program that Hardaway inherits.
IT'S ALL ABOUT WISEMAN
Hardaway is not like his past NBA contemporaries like Chris Mullin or Patrick Ewing, who overtook the head coaching position at their alma mater even though they lacked time and experience on the high school and travel circuits. The former Memphis Tigers great paid his dues over the past few years by sponsoring, running and coaching the Team Penny travel program - a consistent contender for the coveted Nike Peach Jam - and coaching a nationally ranked Memphis East High School program.
What both of those teams have in common is their reliance on the second-ranked prospect in the 2019 class, James Wiseman. A 6-foot-11 center that has solidified his standing as a five-star recruit during his time with USA Basketball and competing against the best nationally, Wiseman was a more-than-likely pledge for John Calipari and Kentucky. The hiring of Hardaway should change things drastically for Wiseman and his recruitment. The hiring of Hardaway was for opportunities like this: to defeat college basketball’s best and, in doing so, bringing the Tigers back among the nation’s elite.
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WHO ELSE FOLLOWS?
While Wiseman has been the most talked about name surrounding the Hardaway hire, the Team Penny and Memphis East programs are boosted by a slew of other up-and-coming talents. Seniors pledged to Wichita State and UAB are on each roster, and 2019 Rivals150 big man Malcolm Dandridge and Chandler Lawson star for both the high school and travel programs formerly affiliated by Hardaway. Lawson is the younger brother of Dedrick and K.J. Lawson, former Memphis standouts that transferred to Kansas last spring,
DJ Jeffries, a top-50 junior who recently committed to Kentucky, has a decision to make, too. A cousin of the Lawsons, Jeffries does not play at Memphis East, but he did make the move last summer to play for Hardaway with his travel unit and is expected to suit up for the program again this spring.
It is imperative that Hardaway keeps the best talent at home, as the prior regime at Memphis failed to enroll even one local prospect. Other prospects in the area that are not connected to Hardaway will also be worth keeping an eye on.
Hardaway is the king of Bluff City, but can he lure other highly coveted prospects to Memphis? Mississippi State has done a great job of shutting the borders, and with the recent hiring of Kermit Davis at Ole Miss the competition in the Magnolia State will be as heated that it has been in recent memory.
Georgia just made the hiring of Tom Crean official and expect him to make Peach State natives especially important in his recruiting efforts.
Hiring an ace recruiter that can also pitch the strengths of Hardaway to high school talent is important, as is an X's and O's type, and Hardaway will want an assistant who can help him navigate the various responsibilities of the heading coaching position. Hardaway definitely faces a steep learning curve as he tries to avoid the same fate of past NBA players who failed at the Division I level.