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VOL. 133 | NO. 81 | Monday, April 23, 2018

Hardaway's First Memphis Recruiting Class a Winner

Penny Bringing Memphis Top-30 Class for 2018

By Don Wade

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The latest recruiting rankings from 247sports.com for the college basketball Class of 2018 has the University of Memphis ranked No. 27 and first among American Athletic Conference teams, 23 spots ahead of No. 50 Wichita State.

“We got into the game real late,” said University of Memphis coach Penny Hardaway. “To be able to get the talent we assembled is a blessing.”

Hardaway met with media before heading out again for an evaluation period in Dallas this weekend. In just a few weeks of work, Hardaway did what Tubby Smith and his staff could not do through three recruiting cycles: land Top-150 recruits.

Penny Hardaway addresses a crowd of fans at a March 20, 2018 press conference inside the Laurie-Walton Family Basketball Center announcing Hardaway as the new head coach of the Tigers men's basketball team. (Daily News/Houston Coifield)

Hardaway only recently added former Grizzlies player Mike Miller as an assistant. Hardaway got the players he did mainly with just the help of assistant Tony Madlock, who came aboard after serving as the interim head coach at Ole Miss after Andy Kennedy stepped down.

So in the early days on the job, Hardaway has been nothing if not efficient. His son Jayden Hardaway was the first to join the program. Then came the coveted signings of East High School guard Alex Lomax, who was released from his national letter of intent to Wichita State, and Cordova guard Tyler Harris.

The latest player rankings at 247sports.com have Harris as the 121st-ranked player in the nation and Lomax as No. 145. Hardaway then landed Antwann Jones, who de-committed from Texas A&M, and Isaiah Maurice, a former Kansas State player who played in junior college last season.

Hardaway said he would still like to add a shooter for next season. But he also sees that as a role for his son.

“I want him being one of the best drop-dead shooters in the country and he has an opportunity to be that, a top-five shooter in the country,” the coach said.

Hardaway lauded Lomax for his grit and being a big part of the coach’s three straight state titles when he led the program at East: “He’s not going to wow you with scoring—he will when he has to—but the majority of his game is making sure teammates are happy and the game is being won.”

Hardaway called Harris “explosive” and says he brings a skill set unlike any other player on the roster or in the AAC: “He’s a scorer.”

Of Jones, he said: “Just call him a pit bull. He can play multiple positions – two, three, some four. He’ll take the challenge against anybody. Really great defender, playmaker, can play some one. Very versatile.”

Maurice provides the Tigers with a much-needed big man. Hardaway says they were fortunate to get him so late in the process.

“To be down to the wire on the big men left in the country and choose here, huge for us,” he said.

Hardaway said they missed out on a couple of recruits from Atlanta that signed with Kentucky, but expressed no doubt about being able to compete with the country’s elite programs for the best players, which includes the current battle with Kentucky for James Wiseman, deemed the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2019.

Asked if there was any chance that veteran college and NBA coach Larry Brown could still join the staff, Hardaway said: “As of now, we just have to move forward.”

Sam Mitchell, who was NBA Coach of the Year in the 2006-07 season with the Toronto Raptors, has been mentioned as a top assistant candidate but Hardaway was vague when asked about Mitchell. He praised Mitchell’s basketball acumen but said he didn’t really know Mitchell, except to have played against him in the NBA.

Hardaway, as he did at his opening press conference, again mentioned the ultimate goal being to compete for a national championship. But he also isn’t easing into the first season. He expects to win at a high level from the start.

“I believe in the players coming back,” he said. “I believe in the players we have recruited, I understand what this coaching staff is capable of and it’s not far-fetched to think that way. I’m not trying to be cocky or brag or anything, I’ve just been that way my entire life. I’ve been successful that way.

“We’re gonna attack things the way we should.”

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