In this reoccurring series – inspired by Moneybagg’s fire single — the CHIEF breaks down each of the 2018 signees in Memphis HC Penny Hardaway’s inaugural recruiting class. Get to know the new Tigers as we hit on five facts about each player in the order they committed. Always feel free to chirp us at The BarnBurner if y’all have any suggestions or questions. #GTG #TimingIsEverything
Alex Lomax | PG | 5-11 | 189 lbs | Memphis East | Memphis, TN
Alex Lomax — nicknamed and commonly referred to as “ALo” — is a player whose history and relationship with Penny Hardaway is nearly as intertwined as Penny’s past is with the University of Memphis. Though a priority target for Tubby Smith and his staff, ALo originally decided to further his education and basketball skills under Gregg Marshall at Wichita State. Once Penny’s name for the coaching candidacy picked up steam, however, ALo becoming a Tiger, if he was able to secure his release from Wichita State (more on that later), became a foregone conclusion. Let’s dive into ALo’s BIG FACTS:
— Alex ✨Alo✨ Lomax (@iamalo02) April 4, 2018
Despite the fact the background and story that generated Penny’s relationship with ALo has become folklore in the Memphis high school basketball scene, many still don’t know much about Coach Dez Merriweather and the Lester Middle School Lions basketball team located in the heart of Binghampton. Dez Merriweather and Penny Hardaway were childhood friends, though rivals on the court. Dez was a facilitating guard at Memphis East. Penny, on the other hand, was a veritable superstar at Treadwell High. Both advanced to the next level, with Dez playing at Division II Lane College (in Jackson, TN) and Penny, of course, opting to stay home and play at then Memphis State, becoming a consensus All-American in 1993. When asked about Penny from those days, Dez often remarks, “I knew he would become famous, because he was always better than everyone.”
After his playing career ended but not looking to give up the game, Coach Dez arrived at Lester in 2008 and quickly turned a 3-23 program into a 24-8 state tournament team in his first year. Meanwhile, Penny Hardaway’s NBA career was coming to a close. After a storied slew of injuries that turned the first-team all-NBA phenom into a role player in his later years, he was finally cut by the Miami Heat after 15 years in the NBA during which he earned 120MM. But, as Penny maintains to this day, he never was able to obtain his true prize: an NBA championship. Though the friends lost touch over the years that Penny was in the NBA, fate would bring them back together when Penny returned to Memphis after his professional career ended.
In 2009, Coach Dez was in the middle of his second season at Lester and — fatigued and experiencing bizarre amounts of pain in his hamstrings — realized something wasn’t quite right. After going in for tests, doctors determined that the “something” was colon cancer — a medical anomaly given Dez’s fairly youthful 36 years of age. Faced with a 3-4 year life span, Dez underwent several surgeries in Summer 2010, and was eventually placed in a medical coma and given 48 hours to live. After somehow regaining consciousness and clinging to life, and with a breathing machine obstructing his face, Dez managed to scribble out a word on a napkin on the bedside hospital table. That word? “1Cent.”
More concerned about his players than his own livelihood, Coach Dez called Penny to the hospital where he asked only one thing of his childhood friend: “take care of my boys.” Though Dez was eventually able to fight off the infection and leave the hospital, he called on Penny to handle all head coaching duties, as Dez could barely stand for half an hour at a time – fighting for his life and undergoing chemotherapy every two weeks. As it turns out, Penny was a natural, and Coach Penny and Coach Dez led the 2011 Lions team to a 14-game winning streak and all the way to a State Championship win. Penny finally had his title and returned to coach the team year after year, winning two more titles and coaching none other than:
— Alex ✨Alo✨ Lomax (@iamalo02) July 21, 2018
Though Dez sadly lost the fight to his colon cancer in 2015, Penny kept his word and followed many of the middle school players he coached, including ALo, to Memphis East under the championship mentality mantra: #DoIt4Dez.
(2). Winner and Champion.
ALo began his basketball career at Memphis East High School, about a mile and half away from the University of Memphis campus in the fall of 2014. Four years later, he would emerge having amassed 1700 points, 800 assists, and 800 boards, to go along with three straight championships.
While at East, ALo established himself — and as ESPN accurately summarizes — as “a hard-nosed and tough point guard who impacts the game on both ends of the floor and has a wealth of winning intangibles. He’s a floor general who plays a pass first style and understand how to facilitate and run a team.”
ALo is built like a damn tank. Already developed, he’s physically strong and capable of withstanding substantial contact in the lane even as a freshman. The “wealth of winning intangibles” really is ALo’s strength, and while I understand the hesitation considering “intangibles” as a strength, ALo’s dedication to winning certainly trumps the ability to light up the scoreboard or make flashy passes. His game is famous for doing whatever is necessary to ensure his team plays the best it can, whether that be scoring or dishing out passes to “hot” teammates — the true point guard.
An underrated aspect of ALo’s commitment is the continuation of the marriage between Penny and ALo as Coach & Point Guard. Penny knows how to best utilize ALo’s skill-set, having already done so to championship dividends. Though there will no doubt be a learning curve for both of them at the D-1 level, there is already an established trust between the two that will ring resoundingly important as both of their rookie seasons progress.
(3). USA Basketball.
This past summer, ALo was invited one of 32 players invited to take part in the prestigious training camp for the USA men’s U18 basketball team.
— Alex ✨Alo✨ Lomax (@iamalo02) June 4, 2018
Though he didn’t make the ultimate roster, having ALo at the camp as a Memphis ambassador is an honor and the sort of regular trend that Penny and staff hope to continue with other prospective players into the future.
(4). Gregg Marshall is a good dude.
ALo shocked the college basketball world by committing to Gregg Marshall and the Wichita State Shockers over staying home to play for the Tigers. He didn’t shock me, however, because Tubby Smith and his crack squadron of assistants didn’t exactly tear it up on the recruiting trail. Anyway, once Penny was announced as HC, many wondered what ALo would do. After all, Penny was ALo’s mentor, a surrogate father figure, and had even housed ALo for periods of time. If ALo elected to breach his National Letter of Intent (“NLI”) to Wichita State, he would have to sit out for a season per NCAA rules. Ultimately, a tough scenario and decision was made easy by a classy move by a likely HOF coach. In a press announcement releasing ALo from his NLI, Marshall explained
If you didn’t before, it’s time to have lot of respect for Gregg Marshall as a coach and leader of young men.
Ever the Memphis Hoops enthusiast, ALo has proven quite the grinder on the recruitment trail. Given that there were several Memphis targets — including Matthew Hurt and Trendon Watford — at USA basketball camp, ALo didn’t waste any time giving other guys his elevator pitch. “I started my recruiting process a couple of days ago,” ALo remarked with a sly grin when talking with The Daily Helmsman. “It’s a lot of great talent here. I’m talking to them, and everybody is friendly, and I’m not going to force anybody, but it would be great to see some of these guys in a University of Memphis uniform. You know I’m on it, full steam ahead.” Don’t ask him his pitch though, as he’s quick to tell you that he must keep that “concealed.”
ALo likewise played a large part in the recruitment of his backcourt compatriot, Tyler Harris — a standout at high school rival Cordova and local AAU rival Team Thad. Supposedly a foregone conclusion that the two would not be compatible teammates at the next level, they were alternatively recruited by the previous staff. Once Penny got the job and ALo committed, many wondered if Tyler going to Baylor was inevitable. Rumor is that Frank Harris (Tyler’s pops), his AAU camp, and even Coach Scales (his high school coach) were not too keen on Tyler sharing minutes with ALo. With all of this in mind and with the city monitoring Tyler’s recruitment under a magnifying glass, ALo maintained that Tyler should do “what’s best for him.” If that means Memphis, great. If that means Baylor, he’ll support him either way. Spoiler alert:
Say hello to the Tigers new backcourt of the future—fellow 4-Star guards @iamalo02 and @iamyoungty1. Best part—BOTH are home grown talents and BOTH were going elsewhere until Penny Hardaway was hired. @3onyourside pic.twitter.com/gwpV0wDCka
— Mike Ceide (@MCeide_WREG3) April 13, 2018
Not surprisingly, I look forward to watching ALo run the squad and develop both as a young man on the basketball court and in the classroom. You should too. Memphis basketball is in good hands. #DoIt4Dez
[banner image: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports]