Penny Hardaway, the hero Memphis deserves and needs

If you are a fan of basketball in Memphis, 2018 has not been your year. The Grizzlies have won a measly 6 games since the turn of the calendar year and the Tigers recently finished up a disappointing season that ended yet again in the conference tournament.

Today, that all changed.

This morning, during a public press conference at the Memphis Tigers’ basketball training facility, history began. Penny Hardaway was officially announced as the new head basketball coach of the University of Memphis Tigers.

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Today, the Tiger’s basketball program –and this city– got the shot in the arm that we so drastically needed. Ever since the sudden departure of John Calipari in 2009, this program has not been the same. Yes, Josh Pastner led the Tigers to four straight tournament appearances from 2010-2014. Yes, we had some fun times and experienced some memorable players. But that was only a peek at what Tiger basketball can and should be. We have seen the promise land. We have tasted bits and pieces of victory. Now it is time to make a comeback. This time, we go for the whole thing.

Am I putting the horse before the cart? Of course. But why not?

The press conference opened with the usual niceties that comes with this sort of event. University President, Dr. Rudd, opened and verbalized that “We have not and will not lower the expectations for this University.”  A good start. A decent warm-up.

Next, AD Tom Bowen spoke and owned the pleasure of introducing the new coach of our city’s team. Bowen encouraged fans to get back in the game by saying “Season tickets are on sale, let’s go get it.” Finally, he closed his speech by giving an endorsement that sent chills up your spine. “He’s a champion..Penny Hardaway, coach of the Memphis Tigers.”

Immediately Penny started off with the charisma that you have no doubt heard so much about. “Am I playing again? I do have one year of eligibility left.”

He spent the majority of the next few minutes preaching on the Memphis blood that runs through him and this city. Long before there was the Grit n Grind Grizz, there was the Tigers. Our hometown team. Penny spoke about how heart and passion are the key ingredients to winning games and a successful program at Memphis. He stressed the importance of getting fans back into the stands, especially after record lows in attendance and season ticket sales.

His closing remarks were so moving that they even prompted our EIC @thebarnchief to text both  @barnburnerslim and me and say: “Guys, I was ready to run through a wall at that press conference today.”

Coach Penny closed his presser by stating that the days where people don’t show up are gone. He pointed out the importance of bringing in good talent to Memphis. He talked about people putting flags back on their cars, wearing Tiger t-shirts, and keeping this team and program in the forefront of their mind. He closed with perhaps his best quote of the day: “Losing is not an option in my mind….I’m excited and ready to go, and I hope you guys are too.”

If you ask me, I think this city is up to the challenge and welcomes it with open arms.

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