Penny Hardaway was hired at Memphis in March 2018 without having ever coached above the high school level. So, naturally, there were skeptics. To some at the time, it seemed like a desperate and misguided move. And yet, not even two years later, it’s now difficult to find anybody trying to argue against the idea that Memphis’ hiring of Hardaway has been a smashing success to date.
He promised he’d get players. Then he went out and got players.
“We shocked a lot of people,” Hardaway says in reference to the fact that he secured the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class in 2019, one that’s highlighted by five-star prospects James Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa. “They definitely underestimated what we were going to do.”
Hardaway’s ability to upgrade and overhaul the Memphis roster — every player is now a player he recruited — has turned the Tigers into favorites in the AAC and contenders to make the 2020 Final Four. They’ll be young, sure. But the talent in the program is the best it’s been in years.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Penny Hardaway
2018-19 RECORD (SEC): 22-14 (11-7)
2018-19 POSTSEASON: NIT: Lost to Creighton 79-67 in the second round
G Kareem Brewton Jr. (8.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
F Kyvon Davenport (13.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg)
G Jeremiah Martin (19.7 ppg, 4.4 apg)
G Raynere Thornton (7.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
The Tigers had no rim protector last season — one reason why opponents shot nearly 50 percent against them inside the arc. But the arrival of Wiseman means that shouldn’t be a problem anymore. The 7'1" center is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft thanks to his unique ability to alter shots, run the floor like a much smaller man and score around, and away from, the basket. He’s a special talent who should have no peer in the AAC.