MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — If Saturday is indeed Penny Hardaway‘s final game at East before moving on to the University of Memphis, he plans on making sure his players go out with something he never got as a player: A state championship.
Despite some shaky moments Friday at Murphy Center, the Mustangs pulled away in the final moments and defeated Bearden, 72-60. In Saturday’s 1 p.m. Class AAA final, they’ll take on district rival Whitehaven for the fifth time this season.
A fifth victory would give East its third consecutive championship but would technically be Hardaway’s first as head coach. Although he still did the bulk of the in-game coaching, he was listed as an assistant the past two years due to TSSAA rules.
“Actually, I’m a little jealous because I never got a chance to win a ring in high school,” said Hardaway, who starred at now-closed Treadwell High.
“I wanted to win a championship so bad and I still think about it to this day because we lost to a team that year (1989) that beat us three times, Bolton High School …. that’s what drives me to want to get these guys rings (and) championships.”
On Thursday, The Commercial Appeal reported that Hardaway’s move to his alma mater would be announced early next week, according to sources with direct knowledge of the situation. The 46-year-old would replace Tubby Smith, who was fired on Wednesday after two seasons on the job and a 40-24 record.
Hardaway declined to discuss the Memphis job on Wednesday and Friday again put the spotlight on his players, who trailed Bearden 38-30 but used a 14-1 run in the third quarter to take a lead they never relinquished.