Former Memphis basketball star Penny Hardaway was introduced as the next coach of the Tigers on Tuesday.
“He’s a champion. Everything he’s done, everywhere he’s been, he’s done his best,” athletic director Tom Bowen said. “He has the ability to do the extraordinary every day. He’s an Olympian. He was an NBA All-Star. He was the finest high school player in the city. He was an All-American with the Tigers. He has been an incredible coach, and now his next move and legacy is to be the next head coach at the University of Memphis.”
Bowen held up a Hardaway No. 25 jersey.
“Am I playing the game?” Hardaway joked. “I do have one year of eligibility left, so maybe.”
Hardaway went on to say that he is not just a face coming in to front the program. He wants to win.
“Losing is not an option,” he said.
Hardaway played two seasons, 1991-92 and 1992-93, for the school when it was known as Memphis State. He’s one of the most popular players to ever don a Tigers uniform, and his No. 25 jersey was retired in 1994.
Hardaway was introduced at a Tuesday news conference that was open to the public, leading to a pep-rally atmosphere.
Blue-clad fans filled the lobby of the Laurie-Walton Family Basketball Center, the team’s practice facility. Others were upstairs, above the entrance, overseeing the announcement which included the team’s mascot and cheerleaders.
A cheer went up from the crowd as Hardaway walked down the steps behind the stage five minutes before the announcement.
Hardaway will replace Tubby Smith, who was fired earlier this month after just two seasons. The university owes Smith almost $10 million after buying out the final three years of his contract.
Memphis’ hire looks to add some life to the program. Smith won 19 games his first year and 21 the second, but the Tigers didn’t make any postseason tournaments and attendance has been down. Attendance hit 6,200 this season — a decrease of 3,400 from 2016-17 season.
There was a loss of $1.1 million in donations to the basketball program in the 2016-17 fiscal year, primarily from the decrease in season-ticket sales.
Hardaway he has coached AAU basketball in the summer and also won his third consecutive state title as the head coach of Memphis East High this past weekend. He has ties to some of the top players in the area, including top-ranked junior James Wiseman.
Hardaway was born and raised in Memphis, where he attended Treadwell High School.
“I told everybody, all I had to do was have the Memphis blood in me and the heart and the passion for winning basketball,” Hardaway said of his decision to take the job. “That’s all we need. I’m coming here to make a difference, and I really feel like I can do so. Getting fans back in the stands like it was in the old school days. I’ve missed those days.
“We have to get those days back.”
Hardaway becomes the third former Tigers player to take over the coaching reins of the program. Wayne Yates coached from 1974-1979, and Larry Finch won 220 games in leading the Tigers for 11 seasons from 1986-1997, including the two years Hardaway played for Memphis.
Hardaway said former Memphis teammate Tony Madlock would be part of his staff. Madlock recently served as interim coach at Mississippi after Andy Kennedy stepped down.
“It’s a family reunion,” Hardaway said of his return. “… I want to see the Memphis flags waving on the cars. I want to see the T-shirts going again, the hats going again like the old school days, and that’s what we want to take it back to.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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