The Penny Hardaway Era Begins in Earnest Exhibition

The Tigers of Memphis did what they were supposed to do and rolled over the Magicians to the tune of 120-66 in Penny Hardaway’s first outing as head coach.  Let’s do a quick rundown of this momentous occasion. 


Yeah, yeah.  I know.  This was an exhibition game against a Division II school.  But face it, you want to know how a Penny Hardaway-coached team looked with Penny Hardaway-recruited players and with Penny Hardaway himself roaming the sidelines in his position as The University of Memphis Head Men’s Basketball Coach for the first time in history.

So that’s why I’m here typing, and that’s why you’re here reading.

Also, please take a moment to pinch yourself, because this is not a dream.  This is reality.  Alright, here’s the skinny:

THE WHO:

LeMoyne-Owen College is a historically black private university located in the heart of South Memphis, just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the FedEx Forum.  LOC is as intertwined with local Memphis basketball culture as UofM.

As the Commercial Appeal reported, LOC Head Coach William Anderson’s relationship with Penny backdates well before both of their coaching careers.  Coach Anderson remembers hearing about a young talent that could do it all playing at Treadwell and rushed from the YMCA gym to see a sophomore Penny Hardaway paint a 35-pt triple double masterpiece.  Shortly after, Anderson and Hardaway began playing on the same travel team.

As a result, tonight’s game between the Tigers and Magicians was a battle among old teammates.  “We hope we can play them every year,” Penny said last month during media availability. “It’s good for the city to get to show off some of its other programs.”

LINEUPS AND ROTATIONS:

Penny had been mixing lineups for the last 5 or so practices, but what specific lineups did he roll out in an actual game?

Alex Lomax (G)

Tyler Harris (G)

Jeremiah Martin (G/F)

Kyvon Davenport (F)

Isaiah Maurice (F)

ALo and First 48 starting together?  Who knows if this will last.  They played about 6 minutes together and then Penny mostly staggered their minutes throughout the rest of the game.

Raynere Thorton and Victor Enoh rounded out the backup frontcourt, as Kareem Brewton and Antwann Jones sprinkled into the backcourt.  Brewton did what he does best — whatever is needed.  Twann impressed with flashes of his #1 shooting guard ranking, and he’s built like a grown man.  It will be hard to keep him off the court, but are there enough minutes to go around?

Keeping in mind that Mike “Boogie” Parks was sidelined with a “back pain” and David Wingett remained in concussion protocol limbo after an errant elbow between the eyes during practice, this game’s rotations may not be the case when the regular season begins.  Boogie is believed by many to be the likely starting 5 and Wingett has already wowed the staff at practice with his shooting and playmaking and will play a heavy role this year.

Memphis coaches (left to right) Tony Madlock, Penny Hardaway, Sam Mitchell and Mike Miller during an open practice Sept. 25.
Photo: Mark Weber/The Commercial Appeal

COUNTDOWN TO CLOCK MALFUNCTION:

The game hilariously started in disarray, as there was a clock malfunction 3 seconds into the game followed by a full timeout.  Penny joked later that he had already waited 200+ days for the moment to take his team on the court and then THAT happens.  [shrug emoji]

The student section (Blue Crew?) took this moment to start a “We Want Wiseman” chant, as James himself sat behind the Tigers’ bench — hard to miss at 7 feet.

James sheepishly grinned and laughed with his mother and sister (a UofM alum) sitting beside him.  Hard to tell what he’s thinking.  But I know the team on the bench in front of him would gladly clear out a seat for him.

SHOWTIME LAKERS TIGERS:

“We want it to be an experience when you come into the building,” Penny explained during media availability.  We want it to be fast-paced on offense and mayhem on defense.  We want it to be energy.  We want people to say when they leave the game: hey, I enjoyed that game.”

If Penny sought mayhem defensively, his desires were rewarded.

There was not a single Magicians’ inbound that a Tiger wasn’t covering.  The Tigers circled like vultures — sticking their paws into passing lanes — and collectively flying towards every lackadaisical heave as LOC desperately attempted to get the ball across half court on most of their possessions.  Who knew defense could be so fun?

Penny has said his offensive philosophy is “we want to run.”

And run they did.  The obvious talent upgrade ringing resoundingly throughout.

Unlike previous years’ shooting woes, the Tigers made the majority of their shots – 42-of-83 from the floor for 50.6 percent and shot 42.9 percent from 3-point range. They were stronger on the boards: 53 rebounds to 42 (though rebounding will remain an issue throgout the season). And they dished out 32 assists —  a stat of which Penny was rightfully proud.

We gasped audibly as Tyler Harris launched threes (he went 5-10 with 26 for the game by the way) off quick pin-down screens and on the break like Steph Curry.  Let me tell you right now, Harris is even faster than what you think “fast” is.  This dude glides up and down the court effortlessly and has the confidence of peak Fast & Furious Vin Diesel when he’s behind the wheel of a GTO.  He is a pure lightning bolt personified in a sinewy 5-9 frame.  After forcing a turnover and leading a fast break layup, Tyler returned to defense clapping his hands in a lowered stance like a spring-loaded cobra of fast-twitch muscle ready to pounce.  Not since the likes of Will The Thrill Barton have the Tigers had a player as exciting.

We cheered raucously as Tyler’s freshman backcourt mate Alex Lomax lasso’d in a rebound that defies his 5-10 stature or when he puts his nose to the grindstone and does all the defensive dirty work, fighting over screens and bodying every player that dare try to dribble past.  Ten minutes into the first half, ALo finds Tyler in the corner in transition.  Tyler swishes it.  ALo flexes.  Signs of the times, Tiger fans.

Redshirt junior Isaiah Maurice, who is every bit of 6-foot-10, scored 18 points and raked in seven boards in a starting role and looked well-adapted to the pace-and-space style of play.  Maurice also demonstrated a baby skin smooth touch around the rim with a few back-to-the-basket turnaround hook shots. Sophomore Victor Enoh looked significantly more engaged than his lackluster first year, ran the floor, had a few good blocks.

Memphis forward Isaiah Maurice dunks over the LeMoyne-Owen defense during action of their exhibition game at the FedExForum.
Photo: Marc Weber/Commercial Appeal

Senior Kyvon Davenport was 4-4 from distance, finding his spot at either elbow and fighting for rebounds down low.  Kyvon finished with with 19 points, the team’s residential Draymond Green workhorse Raynere Thornton scored 18 points with eight boards, and Senior stalwart Jeremiah Martin scored 11 with seven assists.

Jeremiah in particular looks to be the beneficiary of being able to play off the ball.  While he didn’t have eye-popping numbers and looks to be playing into shape after recent hernia surgery, look for him to come back in a big way as the season progresses.

COACH HARDAWAY:

“I understand what comes along with [the head coaching job].  People are going to want to see my mannerisms and how I respond to certain things and my temperament on the sidelines.  Hopefully the team will be exciting enough to where they won’t be paying as much attention to me.”

Penny stood from tip to buzzer — sometimes venturing into the restricted area of the court — and only sitting during timeouts surrounded by his team in a semi-circle on the court.  He was extremely vocal, and anytime one of his players made a bonehead play (i.e, a two-on-one Lomax missed three pointer), Penny’s face reflected as such.

Memphis new head coach Penny Hardaway during acton against LeMoyne-Owen in their exhibition game at the FedExForum.
Photo: Marc Weber/Commercial Appeal

And there were indeed some bonehead plays.  It wasn’t all sunshine and butterflies.  “We fouled too much,” Penny said.  “And turned the ball over like 15 times.  Unforced turnovers and fouling.”

Before the game, local Daily Memphian columnist Geoff Calkins asked Penny, somewhat in jest, if the program was “going to look like Villanova.”  Penny laughed jovially – in only the way he can – and replied, “man if we could look like Villanova that’d be awesome! I mean they’ve won the last 2/3 championships!”

Well, Coach Hardaway, for one night, your team did look like Villanova.  Disruptive, active, and above all, playing together as one unit.  Hopefully, there’s many more Villanova-esque games to come.

NEXT MAN UP:

The Tigers take on CBU in their second of two exhibition games on November 2 at 7pm at FedEx Forum.


Follow me @TheBarnChief and for other MEMPHIS content, check out the rest of The BarnBurner HERE.

[banner image: Marc Weber/Commercial Appeal]

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