Penny Hardaway Hits The Ground Running In Memphis Recruiting Wars

(Photo: Getty Images)

Penny is making Memphis a viable destination for the city’s most talented prospects again.

When Memphis hired Penny Hardaway to take over the hoops program back in March, the university hoped that his legend, name recognition and close connection to Memphis basketball would get the program to elite levels. The goal was to make Memphis a viable destination for the city’s most talented prospects again.

Hardaway hit the ground running.

ESPN’s No.1 high school basketball recruit, James Wiseman announced on Tuesday that he chose the Memphis Tigers over other powerhouse schools like the Kentucky Wildcats and Florida State Seminoles. The announcement comes as no surprise to anyone who’s been following Penny’s power moves as Memphis head coach.

Wiseman met Hardaway when he joined Team Penny for its second Nike Elite Youth Basketball League event when Hardaway was building the East High program in Memphis into a national powerhouse.  By chance, the two sat in the stands together and kicked it a bit.

As the story goes, Wiseman’s family relocated from Nashville and enrolled in East High. By the beginning of the 2017-18 basketball season, Hardaway was fighting on Wiseman’s behalf in court against the TSSAA. By the end of the season, they’d won a state championship together.

Now, they will continue that championship relationship at Memphis for one season.

Bringing Back The Magic of Penny

Former Memphis coach Tubby Smith is one of the best coaches in college basketball history. He won a national championship at Kentucky and he’s had 25 winning seasons in his 27 years as a head coach at Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Texas Tech and Memphis.

He was hired at Memphis to resurrect what has been a sagging program since John Calipari and point guard Derrick Rose led the Tigers on a magical ride to the 2008 national championship game.

But Smith, a certain future Hall of Famer, was fired after only two seasons for his inability to attract local talent and his internal struggle with the Lawson family which led to the two most talented players in the program transferring to Kansas.

His failure to create meaningful relationships with influential Memphians and wealthy alums also left him out in the cold. Memphis paid him $9.75 million to go away.

Enter former NBA star and Memphis star Penny Hardaway whose access to elite players through his AAU exploits and high school job, gave him ties to three top-40 players in the Class of 2019 , including the country’s No. 1 prospect Wiseman,  D.J. Jeffries, Chandler Lawson and a stocked stable of other high-major prospects.


Shaking Up The Recruiting Wars

Penny is already working his magic and positioning Memphis to make huge strides towards building a national powerhouse.

Recruiting has been an obstacle for Memphis over the past decade. Wiseman’s signing is a game changer. The fact that Penny got him to stay home is more telling. Hardaway is killing the recuriting game like he used to do NBA defenses with his multiplicity of skills. He got the goods to sell and the top talent in the country is buying it.

With the No. 1 recruit and another top-50 recruit in the fold for 2019 and more talent on the way —  Wiseman said he’s targeting five-star prospects Trendon Watford, Matthew Hurt and Precious Achiuwa to join him — sky’s the limit for Memphis and Hardaway’s hiring has paid instant results.

Penny has already beaten John Calipari — the ultimate recruiter — in a head-to head battle for the No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 Draft. The talent pool has never been so plentiful and Penny’s still early in the game.


Memphis Bags A Unicorn

Wiseman is another one of those unicorns that have been the toast of the NBA in recent years He’s a 7-foot-center who is averaging 19 points on 75 percent shooting this season and has drawn comparisons to Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid.

Wiseman doesn’t lack confidence and considers himself a “game changer” and despite offers from around the country he chose to ride with Penny. The college basketball landscape is about to change and Memphis is officially back in the mix.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.