Yesterday afternoon, NBA legend Penny Hardaway was officially introduced as the head basketball coach at Memphis, replacing former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith. He is reportedly putting together an all-star supporting cast to rake in top recruits, with legendary coach Larry Brown, Virginia Tech associate head coach Steve Roccaforte, and Kentucky’s own Tony Barbee listed as top candidates to join Hardaway’s staff.
The Memphis basketball program needed an immediate facelift, and Hardaway is planning on hitting the ground running on the recruiting trail to make that happen.
Late last night, Yahoo! Sports posted an article about one Wichita State signee already being let out of his letter of intent to become Hardaway’s first official commitment as head coach.
Alex Lomax, a four-star point guard in the class of 2018, played for Hardaway at Memphis East High School and for Team Penny on the AAU circuit. When his longtime head coach and mentor earned the gig at his home school Memphis Tiger program, the decision was easy. He asked Gregg Marshall to release him from his scholarship papers and the Shocker head coach did the right thing by allowing it to happen with no penalty.
Great story, right?
That is until you keep reading and find two familiar names also included in the piece.
Five-star prospect Chandler Lawson and James Wiseman, the No. 2 overall prospect in his class also played for Hardaway at East High while four-star prospect D.J. Jeffries played for Hardaway’s youth league Team Penny. They’re all expected to join Hardaway in Memphis which would give him a formidable core of young talent in his second year on the job.
And according to Hardaway himself, not only will he try to bring his former players in, he has high expectations it will eventually happen.
“I’m not going to force a kid to come to the University of Memphis if he doesn’t want to,” Hardaway told CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish. “But I just hope that what I’ve done for those kids — coaching or being a mentor or doing the things that I’ve done with those kids — that they would want to come and play [for me]. So those expectations are right. I have those expectations as well. I really do. I feel like I’ve left a lasting impression on those kids that they’re going to want to follow me because they know what I’m about.”
Last week, five-star Kentucky commit DJ Jeffries told Ben Roberts of the Herald-Leader he was “all about Kentucky” and won’t be considering Memphis, even with his former head coach taking the job.
“Me and Penny, we have a good relationship,” he said. “If I wasn’t committed, I probably would have considered it. But now that I’m committed, I just wish Penny and Memphis the best… But, now, I’m all about Kentucky.”
But that doesn’t mean Hardaway isn’t going to give it his best shot.
And despite Kentucky being the overwhelming favorite, he’s certainly going to roll out the red carpet for uncommitted 2019 No. 1 recruit James Wiseman, as well.
Losing Tony Barbee to Memphis would be one thing.
Losing Barbee, Jeffries, and Wiseman to Hardaway and Memphis? Now those are just fighting words.
Time to step in the ring, Coach Cal.