Penny Hardaway expected to be a force on recruiting trail for Memphis

Photo: Jim Weber, Commercial Appeal
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The tweet from Cordova’s Tyler Harris went public just before 7 p.m. on Wednesday night, and it served as further proof of what new Memphis coach Penny Hardaway plans for the recruiting trail.

“Univ of Memphis offered,” Harris wrote on Twitter, acknowledging that one of Hardaway’s first moves after passing his NCAA rules test was to contact the prospect former coach Tubby Smith had been pursuing harder than any other.

But Smith never did land a Memphis area recruit during his two years on the job, and it became a point of contention with the local fan base. Hardaway is intent on reversing that trend, and he appears capable of doing so quickly.

“My team was 99 percent Memphis when I played here, so I definitely want to have a fence around the city and get the top talent from the city,” Hardaway said on Tuesday following his introductory news conference. “I’m not a guy that opposes going out and grabbing a hometown talent because you have enough talent here that can win. You still want to go nationally, sure, but hometown talent you have to keep at home.”

Hardaway’s potential as a recruiter, in addition to his ability to draw fans back to FedExForum, is at the core of why university administrators were ultimately comfortable hiring him at Memphis with no college coaching experience.

Though Hardaway believes he can handle all aspects of coaching at the collegiate level, even he admitted his background in the grassroots basketball world gives him an advantage other first-time coaches usually can’t rely upon.

Since he coached at East High School and helped run the Memphis-based AAU program, Team Penny, Hardaway has immediate ties to at least four top 100 2019 recruits.

They include 7-footer James Wiseman, who is considered the top junior in the country by several recruiting outlets, top-40 prospect Chandler Lawson, the younger brother of former Tigers stars Dedric and K.J. Lawson, as well as top-100 recruit Malcolm Dandridge.

Olive Branch native D.J. Jeffries, who played for Team Penny this past offseason, committed to Kentucky last week as rumors about Hardaway’s impending hire at Memphis were swirling.

But Hardaway made clear on Tuesday he doesn’t think it’s too much to expect he’ll convince all of them to eventually come to Memphis.

“They’re realistic expectations because I hope I left a lasting impression on all the kids that I’ve coached in the past to want to continue their careers with me,” said Hardaway. “I think that I’ve shown them I can take them to another level as a coach and I just hope they trust me enough to go here as well.”

Hardaway added that he officially disassociated himself from Team Penny in order to be comply with NCAA regulations and the organization announced it would revert back to its former name, Bluff City Legends, moving forward.

Already, however, one of his former players seems to be on the way to campus soon.

Point guard Alex Lomax was granted a release by Wichita State from his national letter of intent on Tuesday evening and a statement by Shockers coach Gregg Marshall made clear he only did it because of Lomax’s unique bond with Hardaway.

Lomax has played for Hardaway since the fifth grade and Hardaway considers it a “father-son relationship.”

The four-star prospect, according to ESPN, was Smith’s top recruiting target initially until he switched his focus to Harris when Lomax appeared headed elsewhere. Lomax then signed with Wichita State in November.

But it appears Hardaway needed just hours to do what Smith couldn’t over two years: Convince one of the area’s top point guards to become a Tiger.

Alex Lomax Sr. confirmed this week that his son wouldn’t have committed to Wichita State early had they known Hardaway was going to become a college coach this soon.

“You can’t stop destiny,” Lomax Sr. said. “I think this was just something that was meant to happen as far as Penny getting that University of Memphis job and ALo getting out of his letter of intent. Now, here he is today, deciding on whichever college he wants to, but you already know what it is. It’s the University of Memphis.”

For more, visit the Memphis Commercial Appeal

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