Rod Hampton is the father and coach of five-star 2020 recruit R.J. Hampton, and so the answer he gave when asked about Memphis resonated more than the 24 points R.J. scored last Saturday or the Under Armour Association cameras following his every move during the first weekend of college basketball’s July evaluation period.
“They know how to talk to the kids,” Rod Hampton said. “They’re not too far removed from the league, and these guys want to get to the league.”
If the first few months of Penny Hardaway’s tenure at Memphis have proven anything, it’s that his NBA pitch is hitting home with recruits.
It’s not just that former NBA player Mike Miller and former NBA coach of the year Sam Mitchell are also on his staff. It’s that their playing and coaching days in the NBA conjure up recent memories, a fact Hardaway turns to often when explaining why they can best prepare prospects for the NBA.
“You’ve got to hope that they can say this is an NBA roster of coaches that kind of been where I want to go and that they can teach me to be a pro on and off the court and go further than that,” he said earlier this month.
Whether it’s James Wiseman, the top recruit in the 2019 class, or C.J. Walker, the latest 2019 recruit to earn a scholarship offer from Memphis, this look into the future is what Hardaway emphasizes in his discussions with players.
At the moment, without a college game under his belt, prospects can only envision the up-tempo, pro-style approach he plans to implement on the court. But recruits, and particularly their parents, don’t need to use their imagination to see what Hardaway, Miller and Mitchell accomplished in the NBA not that long ago.
For proof, just listen to the people the Tigers have been recruiting of late.
“From them being NBA vets,” Walker said, “they bring a lot of attention to their program.”
“There’s no other staff in the country that has that much NBA experience on the staff,” added Marcus Robinson, Walker’s coach and mentor.
“They can make me a pro,” said R.J. Hampton. “You have Penny Hardaway, [potential] Hall of Famer. You have Mike Miller, one of the best shooters ever. Sam Mitchell, a great coach who coached in the NBA. So they just say they can get me ready for the next level as soon as possible.”
“How better can it get than an ex-NBA staff,” noted East star Malcolm Dandridge, the Tigers’ lone 2019 commitment.
This NBA-focused approach isn’t necessarily unique to college basketball.
Hampton, for instance, is one of the top five recruits in the country in the 2020 class and considering reclassifying to 2019. The 6-foot-5 guard from Little Elm, Texas native noted Kentucky’s coaches often remind him that the Wildcats have produced a bevy of successful one-and-done prospects and “they get people ready to be pros,” he said.
But there is something different about being told that by a coaching staff you can watch play in the NBA on YouTube. Hampton or his father speak to Miller almost every day and R.J. remembers Miller playing with LeBron James on the Miami Heat earlier this decade.
He’s also gotten two calls from Hardaway, who is recruiting Hampton’s friend, top 2020 recruit Jalen Green, as well.
Whatever he’s saying seems to be working.
“They’ve got pros on the staff. It’s a look that a lot of colleges don’t have and they don’t need the money,” Rod Hampton said. “I think they really want to make these kids successful. I don’t think they’re going to jump in and just take all the guys, but I just think they have an edge and if they can get the right system going, they could turn some heads.”