Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, a name as synonymous with the city of Memphis as a plate of ribs and known by basketball fans across the globe is settling into his new position. The homegrown product of the Bluff City accepted the position head basketball coach at the University of Memphis, where he earned All-American honors.
With a flashy new hire made by the Tigers, some are wondering how the new coach will handle the big stage and if he can live up to expectations of Tiger fans. If recruiting is the first step, Coach Hardaway has already proven himself to be a formidable force. He is rebuilding the team with recent additions of Ryan Boyce (flipped from UAB), Lance Thomas (transfer from Louisville), Alex Lomax, Antwann Jones, and Tyler Harris to name a few.
One major theme evident in Hardaway’s recruitment strategy is building a fence around Memphis and putting local talent in a Tiger uniform. Lomax and Harris are both Memphis products who could easily become pivotal players in upcoming seasons for the Tigers to open up the Memphis pipeline. But, even with all the positives that Penny brings to the University of Memphis and the basketball program, there are still unanswered questions.
What style of basketball will Penny utilize and will it be successful in the college game? Is one basketball enough and can the new recruits work as a team in their first year? I interviewed Mark Giannotto who is a beat writer for the Commercial Appeal of Memphis (part of the USA Today network) about his thoughts on the upcoming season for the Tigers. When asked about why Memphis chose Penny over other coaching candidates, he explained that Penny’s ability to “recruit, garner excitement, and boost ticket sales were huge factors” the administration and alumni viewed as important in turning the program around from the Tubby Smith era. During Tubby’s tenure, the win loss ratio “was not in line with what the administration and boosters had been hoping for” and in turn, “the attendance figures were at a 50 year low”- a 50 year low in this basketball mecca. Smith also did not embrace the Memphis community and the talent flowed elsewhere. Meanwhile, Penny was amassing AAU talent leaving college coaches salivating.
This transition will surely change the culture of the program. With Penny’s deep roots in the Bluff City, he has gained momentum on picking up solid recruits and establishing a formidable squad for the upcoming season. With this talent, fans can likely expect the new look Tigers to run a system of play similar to NBA teams – up-tempo with spacing across the floor.
Tiger fans are thrilled about this momentum and are dreaming of their first Final Four appearance since Mario Chalmers three-pointer put a dagger in their heart in 2008. Even still, these fans must realize that with all this talent, Penny has amassed an impressive 28th rank recruiting class for the upcoming season. One thing is for sure, Memphis attendance will not remain at a 50 year low and all that cost the University was a Penny.