Can Penny Hardaway's recruiting success rub off on Memphis football recruiting?

Photo: Mark Weber/The Commercial Appeal

Can Penny Hardaway's recruiting success rub off on Memphis football recruiting?

Football

Can Penny Hardaway's recruiting success rub off on Memphis football recruiting?

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The day Penny Hardaway was introduced as the Tigers’ men’s basketball coach, Memphis football coach Mike Norvell showed his support not just in words but in footwear.

Norvell wore a pair of blue Air Foamposite One Royal shoes – shoes that Hardaway made famous during his NBA career.

“Every program that has success, we all breed off each other, and that’s something I love about this community,” Norvell said at the time.

Hardaway has recruited the nation’s No. 1 class for 2019 according to 247Sports and brought national attention not seen since the Tigers were ranked No. 1 during the 2007-08 season. But can Hardaway’s success rub off on football recruiting?

Norvell’s 2017 class was ranked 56th in 247Sports’ composite rankings, the highest in school history. His 2019 class ranked 66th, but the average recruit rating was the highest ever for a Tigers class.

Winning 26 games the past three years and producing three All-Americans has helped Norvell sell the program to potential recruits. Yet with Hardaway making Memphis a destination spot again, it can only help Norvell have more success.

“The energy around the basketball program and recruiting is unique right now,” said Barton Simmons, 247Sports director of scouting. “Given that Memphis also has a young, energetic (football) coach who embraces these sort of opportunities, I think it’s an intangible that I think we can see benefit football recruiting.”

What Memphis can learn from Kentucky, Duke

Memphis is the first school not named Kentucky or Duke to finish No. 1 in 247Sports’ composite rankings for basketball since 2008. Like the Tigers, Kentucky’s and Duke’s football programs have had varying success while basketball has had a higher profile.

In some cases, football recruiting received a bump the season after the No. 1 basketball class arrived. Since 2008, Kentucky had the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class seven times, and in five of the following seasons, the incoming football class was ranked higher than the previous year.

In 2016, the year after Kentucky’s last No. 1 recruiting class in basketball, the Wildcats’ football class rose from 38th to 34th according to 247Sports. After Kentucky’s No. 1 class in 2013, the Wildcats’ 2014 football class was ranked 22nd, the highest it’s been this decade

Duke had the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class in 2018, and the 2019 football recruiting class jumped from 63rd to 48th. But attributing those bumps to basketball alone is flawed because other factors were at play.

Duke’s 2018 football team, for example, was nationally ranked and won its second straight bowl game.

For Memphis to capitalize on basketball success, the Tigers will have to produce on the court besides winning the recruiting battle.

In the meantime, the Tigers have yet to see the effects in football. As of this week, Memphis doesn’t have a commitment compared to the end of May 2018, when it had two players committed.

As it turned out, neither of the two recruits signed with the Tigers. So the impact from basketball could be felt over the summer when the coaching staff hosts various camps and visits.

As Simmons pointed out, any boost can help because football recruiting is about momentum, no matter the source.

“I think any incremental little edge, if it can help you on one guy, is huge,” Simmons said. “When you’re getting on campus for unofficial visits or with basketball guys, if there’s a different energy around the campus, then I think it’s relevant.”

What Memphis coaches say about Penny’s impact

Defensive backs coach TJ Rushing can only smile whenever national sports shows discuss Hardaway’s recruiting success.

When Memphis appears on the bottom ticker on ESPN with news about another commitment or signee, Rushing knows potential recruits see it, too.

“We’re staying relevant, and so kids see that. They see the potential, and they know we’ve been doing it on the football field,” Rushing said. “They see our players tweeting about it nonstop, just like Memphis is where it’s at.”

Running back Darrell Henderson runs through agility drills during Memphis’ Pro Day on March 27, 2019. (Photo: Mark Weber, The Commercial Appeal)

Both Rushing and receivers coach/recruiting coordinator John Simon said that when talking to recruits during the evaluation period this spring, the strongest assets are the Tigers’ on-field success of consecutive AAC West division titles and five NFL Draft picks in three years.

For recruits, hearing about Anthony Miller and Darrell Henderson and how they can fit into an offense ranked in the top five nationally the past two years might mean more than the hype around the basketball team.

While it’s unlikely the basketball team’s recruiting success rubs off on football, Rushing and Simon said the staff won’t hesitate using it to help bring players to Memphis.

Like Norvell noted, one program’s success at Memphis can help another’s.

“The more that you can have that continues to keep (recruits) excited and focused on the direction of the school and program while (helping them) achieving their goals and dreams, that’s always a bonus,” Simon said.

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Can Penny Hardaway's recruiting success rub off on Memphis football recruiting?
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