Penny Hardaway speaks at a news conference and rally announcing his new role as head coach for the University of Memphis men’s basketball team.
Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway wants to see fans back in the stands at basketball games to cheer on his alma mater — the University of Memphis. And that’s one of his goals as the new head coach of the team as he explained after addressing hundreds of attendees at Tuesday’s press conference in Memphis.
“The city raised me,” Hardaway told The Undefeated. “I’ve been very successful at basketball, and everything I do, I do it for the city and I’m just excited to be in this position. I look forward to the fans coming back to the FedExForum. Packing the house like we did in the Coliseum and in the Pyramid. I’m looking forward to those days coming back. I’m excited. I hope that everybody’s riding the waves and I hope that I can put Memphis back on the map.”
The Mid-South Coliseum was home to the Tigers from 1966-1991. The team moved to The Memphis Pyramid once it was built. It remained the home to Tiger basketball from 1991-2004, when the FedExForum opened.
Hardaway assumed the position vacated by Tubby Smith on the cusp of a three-peat victory with his East High School Mustangs. As the high school’s head coach, the NBA legend and local Memphis icon won its third straight state title (2016, 2017 and 2018) in Murfreesboro on Saturday at the Class AAA State Championship game. Hardaway focused on his team’s competition, never confirming plans to take on a new role until the school’s announcement on Monday.
MEMPHIS, TN – March 20, 2018: Memphis Tigers cheerleaders handed out souvenirs celebrating their new head coach at a press conference and rally announcing Penny Hardaway’s new role for the University of Memphis men’s basketball team.
For many fans, Hardaway has returned home – a place he holds dear to his heart. It’s the same place where his hoop dreams became a reality that thrust him into NBA stardom, a place where fans cheered him on, teammates urged him to play harder and his former coach, the late Larry Finch, who was also once a player at the then Memphis State University, believed that he would do great things in life.
For Hardaway, his job as Memphis’ new head coach is divine intervention.
“God ordained this whole process into being what it is today…,” Hardaway said. “I believe in all of that. The timing is perfect right now. The city needs it and the city is responding. I feel great.”
Hardaway has a high level of respect for Smith and his coaching history. Smith’s two-season stint ended in his firing after closing out the 2017-18 season with a declining attendance for the sixth straight year, ultimately contributing to the need for a new plan. The announced average was 6,211 fans through 18 home games toward the close of the 2017-18 season at the FedExForum, which holds 18,119.
According to The Commercial Appeal the school averaged more than 16,000 fans and ranked among the top 10 in the country in average attendance just four years ago. During former coach Josh Pastner’s final season, the announced team average was 12,028 (2015-16).
Hardaway’s success with Team Penny, his AAU program gives him exemplary knowledge of new recruits and their talents. Although he has no college coaching experience, his passion for basketball lends a level of confidence for a hopeful resurgence of the Memphis basketball program.
MEMPHIS, TN – March 20, 2018: Penny Hardaway hugs Vickie Finch, the widow of former University of Memphis player and head coach Larry Finch, after at a press conference and rally announcing Hardaway’s new role as head coach for the University of Memphis men’s basketball team.
Hardaway said the hardest part of his upcoming journey is learning the NCAA rules and regulations.
“I have to make sure I don’t have any infractions or break any rules,” Hardaway said. “I have my compliance people on speed dial to make sure. I think that will be the hardest part. I’m focused and there are so many rules and regulations.”
Hardaway is the university’s 19th coach and the third Tiger alum named head coach to the program [Wayne Yates (1974-79) and Finch (1986-97)].
Elliott Perry, Hardaway’s friend and former player and director of player support for the Memphis Grizzlies, thinks this is one of the biggest hires the program has made in their history.
“I’m in love with the hire,” Perry said. “I played for Coach Finch, one of the best players to ever play there. And the impact that he made and how much he poured into my life, he’s poured into Penny’s life as well and Penny will do the same thing for his players. You’re talking about a guy who played high school here and played in college at Memphis. [He’s] certainly one of the best players to ever play in our program and now he’s the head coach. He will run the program, orchestrate the program, curate the program like it’s his own child. That’s why it’s so significant.”
Hardaway told the crowd of more than 100 attendees at the press conference that his passion for Memphis basketball is what encouraged him to accept the position.
“You know it wasn’t easy to bring me here because of my experience with college basketball,” he said. “But I told everyone all I had to do was have the Memphis blood in me and the heart and the passion for winning basketball. As a coach, my style, we’re going to get after them. I know that’s what we love. We’re going to play hard nose basketball, running, jumping pressing everywhere and winning games. Losing is not an option for us. I really want to hit the ground running. I know people are saying to be patient and to do this first and to do that first but I’m not wired that way. I go all or nothing.”
Penny Hardaway speaks at a press conference and rally announcing his new role as head coach for the University of Memphis men’s basketball team.
The two-time All-American and a four-time NBA All-Star inherits a 40-26 record accumulated during the past two seasons under Smith. This season, the Tigers finished a 21-13 after the American Athletic Conference Championship semifinals loss to the top seed Cincinnati.
“I’m not just coming here to be a face,” Hardaway said at the press conference. “I’m coming here to make a difference. With the help of getting the fans back in the stands like it was back in the old school days. I am dedicated to this team that just finished this season. Like I told those kids in the locker room it was kind of unfair a little bit to them that nobody really showed up, but those days are gone. Also bringing some really good talent here that the city of Memphis would love to see on a nightly basis.”
Hardaway’s ongoing to support of the University of Memphis is evident in his 2008 $1 million donation to the Penny Hardaway Hall of Family Building that opened in August of 2011. He graduated from school in May of 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in professional studies.
MEMPHIS, TN – March 20, 2018: Fans line the second floor balcony at a press conference and rally announcing Penny Hardaway’s new role as head coach for the University of Memphis men’s basketball team. Photos of Penny Hardaway line the balcony.
Hardaway was drafted as the third pick in the 1993 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors, but was traded to the Orlando Magic for the rights to Chris Webber, the draft’s overall pick.
The 6-foot-7 point guard played in the NBA from 1993 to 2008 with the Magic, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks and Miami Heat.
Hardaway’s notoriety goes back to his senior year in 1990 at Treadwell High School in Memphis, Tenn. where he averaged 36.6 points and 10.1 rebounds. His time at Memphis State University is in the books. He spent two seasons with the Tigers and led the team to two NCAA Tournament appearances, including the Elite Eight in 1992. His accolades include two career triple-doubles and he ranks 17th in scoring. Hardaway holds a gold medal as part of the 1996 U.S. Olympic (Atlanta, GA).
Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.
K.J. Maura #11 and teammate Jourdan Grant #5 of the UMBC Retrievers celebrate their 74-54 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers during the first round of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Spectrum Center on March 16, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Mar 19, 2018; Sacramento, CA, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Blake Griffin (23) celebrates after scoring a three point basket against the Sacramento Kings during the second half at Golden 1 Center.
Andre Drummond (left) and Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons celebrate before the game against the Toronto Raptors on March 7 at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
Torrey Smith interacts with fans during the third quarter.
Torrey Smith guards Aquille Carr full court after Carr hits a few shots in the second half.
Former Baltimore Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin drives to the lane on Maryland state Sen. Bobby Zirkin.