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VOL. 133 | NO. 134 | Friday, July 6, 2018

Memphis Basketball's New Players, Holdovers Pledge Unity and Common Goal: Winning

By Don Wade

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They are a blended family, this collection of players left over from Tubby Smith’s two-year tenure and the new guys – some dripping with hype – who have arrived with Penny Hardaway.

Human nature being what it is, there is room for a “them-and-us” mentality to creep into the inner workings. The real case study, of course, won’t come until much later. Summer college basketball themes, like spring training baseball narratives, are founded on the freedom of an unblemished record and sustained on the daily fuel of all things being possible.

“Everybody’s a great talent, competitive,” said freshman guard Alex Lomax (East High School), who along with Cordova guard Tyler Harris has given Hardaway’s first team a strong hometown flavor. “Everybody’s been through their own things and accomplishments.

Senior Memphis Tigers guard Kareem Brewton Jr. says the team is like family, “everybody as one.” (Daily News File/Houston Cofield)

“They can teach things from their point of view, see things from my point of view. We just test each other mentally and physically.”

Said senior guard Kareem Brewton Jr.: “It’s like family, everybody as one.”

All families, basketball or otherwise, are imperfect. Dysfunction is never a yes/no question, but a matter of degrees.

In a basketball family, competitiveness from each individual member and the greater collective is a basic requirement. But the truth is that at some point players competing for minutes will be like three dogs at one bowl: Portions will not be equal.

Will that lead to acrimony?

It could, sure. But the more that camaraderie is built over the summer, the slower that bitterness will seep into young men’s hearts in the winter.

“We get closer every day,” said Lomax. “There’s no grudges. Everybody’s been family from day one because that’s the type of respect we have for each other.”

That might sound like a throwaway line, but consider the elevation in talent in this first recruiting class.

When Smith was head coach, it was just assumed that, at best, he had an outside shot at landing either Harris or Lomax but never both. Because there was also an unspoken assumption that the Tigers’ roster could only balance so much skill at one position.

Freshman guard Alex Lomax (East High) says each player brings something to the table. “They can teach things from their point of view, see things from my point of view.”  (AP File Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Penny Hardaway immediately disavowed that notion, and Lomax and Harris proved that, at least at the outset, their egos are not as fragile as some people believed. More talent is a good thing, not a problem-in-waiting.

So listen to Harris on playing with Lomax: “When he has the ball, he’s trying to find me in the spot he wants me to be in, just as when I have the ball he is always going to be in the spot where I want him to be … I didn’t know coming in how it would gel, but it’s been great.”

Suffice to say, it is easier to play well with other good players than with players well below your ability level. So there are advantages for Brewton and senior Jeremiah Martin here, too. They won’t have to carry more load than they should because of a talent deficit.

“It’s just great opportunity, you know?” Brewton said. “Any given day … maybe I’m playing bad and Tyler’s playing good ... I’m clapping for him.

“End of the day, it’s basketball and we’re trying to win games. It won’t be, `Aw, man, he’s got more minutes than me.’ It’s supposed to be everybody together.”

And for now, in the relative ease of summer, that is exactly how it is.

With each workout and pick-up game, the players learn each other a little more and the bond is given a chance to grow a little tighter.

“We’ve just been at it every day, hanging out and being close friends,” Lomax said. “Just working on what we have to do to maintain and get better.”

Which means going hard. It may be summer, but that doesn’t mean iron can’t sharpen iron for the season ahead.

“We fight for everything,” said senior Kyvon Davenport. “Fight for rebounds, one-on-one, trying to prove ourselves, push our teammates, make each other better day by day. The only way to do that is to kill each other now so by game time it will be easy.

“We get it, we get what’s going on and we’re working together.”

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