With another five-star, the Penny Hardaway experiment is working
Since being hired on March 20, 2018, Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway has had plenty of questions asked about him.
Will he work out? Will he be able to coach? Will he be able to recruit? Can he rage against a machine and establishment of college basketball powers that might not want to be pushed by him?
With Friday's addition of Precious Achiuwa adding another five-star piece to 2019's top ranked recruiting class – that also includes the nation's top player James Wiseman – the answer to any questions surrounding his ability to recruit against college basketball's bluebloods is clear.
And I don't see any reason to think he won't continue to be successful either.
Look, I get it. When Hardaway was hired to lead his hometown program there was plenty of skepticism about the job. There's not exactly a great track record for coaches with no head coaching experience taking over high-level programs and making a splash.
But, I said it at the time and I will continue to say it again. Hardaway wasn't just handed the job in Memphis because of his name. Sure, his name didn't hurt, but the man paid his dues on the grassroots level and anybody who watched him as a high school or summer coach had to understand that he could coach and that he was fully invested into making this work.
Now he's making the best coaches in the game work a little harder, too.
"He's throwing a wrench into a lot of guys' plans," an ACC assistant coach told me Friday. "I like it. I think it's kind of funny. He's got his own style, his own shoe, his own way that the kids connect with. He's got to win with these guys but he's proved he can coach. He's not just coming from nowhere."
To be certain, keeping local players home was always going to be part of what would help Hardaway rebuild Memphis and he's done that with ease. In addition to Wiseman, five other four-stars from the area have committed in just over a year's time. That's fine, it was expected. Perhaps what wasn't expected, though, was how well the message would be received outside of Memphis.
Achiuwa has Nigerian roots, grew up in New York and finished his high school career in Florida. Four-star shooter Lester Quinones is another who did the New York-to-Florida route and four-star Boogie Ellis hails from San Diego. Add in a star grad transfer Rayjon Tucker, a North Carolina native, and the evidence is there that Hardaway and a staff keyed by Mike Miller have proven that they can recruit across the nation.
Next up, Hardaway will have to prove that he can get all of these star players on the same page. Memphis will be expected to take a big step up from last year's 22-14 season, which ended in a second-round NIT loss to Creighton. The Tigers will face lofty preseason expectations.
If I'm going by the questions that were around this time last year and how they've been answered so quickly, this is only the beginning for Hardaway.