Summer Workouts Reignite Fan Interest As Tigers Prepare For Coming Season
With the Memphis Tiger Basketball team now participating in summer workouts, fans are beginning to rev up the buzz again for the upcoming season. With murmurings and feedback coming from the famous pickup games between Tiger alums and current players, many are excited about what lies ahead. The potential to bounce back from a trying 2017 season that included the departure of Dedric and KJ Lawson, along with Markel Crawford; on top of the drama surrounding former head coach Tubby Smith, all has fans ready to get things going in the right direction. Now, with native Memphian Penny Hardaway at the helm, the Tiger program is looking to rebound in a major way. Hardaway’s additions to the roster have some pegging the Tigers as a potential tournament team; which would be a vast improvement over last year’s 161 Kenpom ranked team. Let's take a quick look at some things that are reasons for excitement for the upcoming season.
The Coaching Staff
Penny Hardaway has had success at every level of basketball he’s ever tried his hand in. From All-American High School and college player, to multiple time NBA All-Star, and eventually a 3X Tennessee State Championship Basketball Coach with East High school. Now Coach Hardaway intends to try his luck in the college basketball coaching ranks.
Joining Hardaway at Memphis is former Tiger, Tony Madlock. Madlock will add the needed college experience the coaching staff otherwise lacks. After being in the game 20 years, he is coming home to be Hardaway’s #1 guy.
Mike Miller was Penny’s second addition. Miller brings much of what Hardaway brings to the table. He’s an NBA veteran with a championship ring, a close relationship with the game’s best player, Lebron James, and a desire to bring along young talent.
Former NBA Coach of the Year, Sam Mitchell rounds out Penny’s staff. With Mitchell, Hardaway is doubling down on the NBA appeal. Mitchell is a former player and seasoned coach. He will provide a strategic mind that should prove beneficial.
With this assembled staff, the message to recruits is clear: If you want to one day be an NBA player, come to The University of Memphis. You will be groomed here better than anywhere else.
With an abbreviated recruiting period the Tigers were able to add an impressive group of players to their veteran heavy roster. Coach Hardaway was able to immediately flex his recruiting muscle by adding impact players within a short time.
Alex Lomax was Penny’s first commit of note. Lomax is a Memphis kid who carries on that tradition of great play at the point guard position. This kid is 5’11, built like a running back and plays with the tenacity to match. He’s a crafty player who makes the winning play when the ball is in his hands. He should be able to step in right away and take pressure off senior guard, Jeremiah Martin.
Tyler Harris was the most electrifying player in all of Tennessee last year. At 5’10 he’s proven himself to be an unstoppable force scoring the ball. He’s quick enough to get past any defender or he can drill 3s from deep. He’s a pick your poison type of player when the ball is in his hands. It’s unclear whether he will be starter or a bench player. What is apparent is Harris will be a big-time contributor in his first year at Memphis.
Antwann Jones is a curious case. If you ask people who know, he’s considered a top 50 talent in the class of 2018. For reasons not linked to his basketball ability he’s ranked at a sub 100 level. Regardless, at 6’6, with his developed frame he will be a valuable piece as a defender. Coach Hardaway has expressed the desire to be able to play a fast paced, defensive style. Jones is the perfect guy to be able to slide right into that style.
David Wingett was relatively unknown on the national scene before this past year. But here’s all you need to know about him. He’s 6’7. He will be able to play positions 2-4. And he can shoot the cover off the basketball. Wingett is a proud Native American. I call him “Shooting Tiger.”
Other Newcomers: Jayden Hardaway G 6’4, Isaiah Maurice F 6’10, Ryan Boyce G 6’5, Lance Thomas F 6’8
Though Tubby Smith’s roster lacked elite level talent, there are some players who will be impactful even after his departure.
Jeremiah Martin took a huge leap forward last year before a season ending foot injury. He was the team’s and conference’s leading scorer. And was one of the only players to be able to provide instant offense. He will still be the team’s most polished offensive weapon. And if healthy, he should be in for another monster performance in his senior year.
Most would consider Mike Parks to be the Tigers second best returning player. The 6’10 big man was a force in the middle for the Tigers last season. And since the Tigers don’t have another great option at Center, Parks will be counted on this year to shoulder a lot of that load again this year.
Kyvon Davenport was a huge part of what the Tigers did last year. With his length and defensive ability, that will still be the case this season. I wouldn’t be surprised if he retains his starting spot on the roster. He should be a guy who Coach Hardaway can lean on to make this transition a smooth one.
Raynere Thornton and Kareem Brewton are the two guys in the most interesting predicaments. They both were contributors on last year’s team. However, the additions the coaching staff has made in the off season at the guard and wing positions, they could both find themselves fighting for minutes. Thornton may be able to find minutes by increasing his time in the post. For Brewton, the chances may not be as favorable.
Other Holdovers: Victor Enoch F 6’7, Karim Azab C 6’10, Evin Olds G 5’10
Typically, a first-time head coach wouldn’t have many expectations to speak of. That’s not the case with Penny Hardaway. Somewhat due to his own public comments, the bar has been set relatively high for the upcoming season. The AAC is down this year with Wichita State and Cincinnati losing key players. With those two teams weakened, the league is wide open. That fact paired with the fact that the Tiger’s recruiting class is ranked atop the league makes it totally reasonable to believe that Memphis can finish in the top 3.
Memphis’ main competition will be Houston and UCF. Assuming the talent comes together as expected, the Tigers could realistically be competitive with either of those teams. And a top 3 finish in the AAC could easily spell a tournament berth for the hometown team. That alone should make for an exciting season.