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" he tweets. He'll join a roster that has some talent but probably not enough to advance too far int

Time:2018-11-19 16:25Shoes websites Click:

Home Penny comes Hardaway

IN BRINGING PENNY home, Memphis is following a dog-eared blueprint: turning to a former star to freshen up a program gone stale. That ploy has mostly produced disappointing homecomings, such as Connecticut's Kevin Ollie, who won a national title in 2014 but was fired in March after consecutive losing seasons (ESPN reported earlier this year that he's facing an ethics violation charge by the NCAA), St. John's Chris Mullin (38-60 in three years) and Houston's Clyde Drexler (19-39 in two years before resigning).

Memphis tried this more than 30 years ago with Larry Finch, who, as a star point guard, led the Tigers to the national championship game in 1973. He was greeted as a savior when he became head coach in 1986; Memphis magazine released an issue that November with his picture under the headline, "Can This Man Save Memphis State Basketball?"

He didn't: Finch, who became the winningest coach in program history, was nonetheless pushed out 11 years later.

Because of those high-profile flops and messy divorces, Hardaway understands the undercurrent of skepticism -- rarely spoken publicly, with the exception of a few outlets in rival areas -- about his chances to succeed at Memphis.

"Oh, I get it," Hardaway says. "But the difference in me and them is that I coached middle school, I coached high school, I coached AAU. So I have a better understanding of the kids."

Drexler, whose tenure at Houston came immediately after his retirement from a 15-year NBA career, says Hardaway's experience working with younger basketball players is much more valuable than going to college directly from the pros.

"The fact is that he's been coaching these kids already," says Drexler, a friend of Hardaway's. "But I always tell him I think this is going to hurt his golf game because recruiting is a full-time job."

Indeed, Hardaway's familiarity with the nation's top recruits made him the obvious choice for Memphis despite his total lack of college-coaching experience.

Only days after the tournament in Las Vegas, five-star forward D.J. Jeffries became the first Kentucky recruit under head coach John Calipari to decommit and reopen his recruitment. Now connect the dots: Jeffries is from Olive Branch, Mississippi, only about a 20-minute drive from the Memphis campus. He played for Hardaway's grassroots program. His father, Corey Jeffries, grew up in the area and rooted for Hardaway and the Tigers.

"Every basketball player in the area wants to go to Memphis," Corey Jeffries says. "Before Penny came, we didn't hear all that."

Hardaway's deep ties to the community have already paid off; he landed a commitment from five-star recruit D.J. Jeffries on Saturday. Robby Klein for ESPN

MORE THAN 500 people show up on a gloomy Tuesday afternoon at the Laurie-Walton Family Basketball Center, the year-old 62,000-square-foot facility fronted by seven large, white columns that give it the look of a palatial art museum. The Memphis Rebounders, the booster club for the men's basketball program, found the rare opening in Hardaway's schedule and planned a meet-and-greet with club members.

In a corner against a wall are Mitchell, Miller and other members of Hardaway's staff. Over plates of pulled chicken and pork, baked beans and coleslaw, silver-haired boosters and stooped former Tigers players pack into a cavernous lobby dubbed the "Hall of Traditions" to greet Hardaway.

"I'm blown away," says Harold Byrd, president of the club and a local bank. "We've had a lot of impressive receptions. But none that were this warm."

About a half hour after the scheduled start, Hardaway hops onstage at the front of the lobby to a standing ovation. The 47-year-old doesn't look all that different from the reed-thin teen he was 30 years ago, though his face has rounded out a little more with age.

Up there by himself, with a microphone, Hardaway gives his guests what they came for.

Someone asks about a preseason conference poll that ranks Memphis eighth in the American Athletic Conference. "I had to realize they've been wrong before and they'll be wrong again," he says. The crowd raucously applauds. He almost playfully invokes the name of Calipari, telling the crowd Kentucky turned down his request to play a game this year. Calipari, whose successful run in Memphis from 2000-09 included a national championship appearance but also NCAA violations that later erased it from the record book, remains persona non grata among die-hard Tigers fans. They roundly boo him.

Hardaway then opens the floor for questions, and a woman eagerly seizes the microphone. She is a former professor of his, she says, someone who has been observing him for more than a quarter-century. "I save everything in the paper that says his name," says Jane Howles Hooker, an associate professor emeritus at Memphis. "Same thing with Elvis."

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