MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There has been plenty of speculation lately about Penny Hardaway jumping from the high school ranks, where he has Memphis East bidding for a third straight state title, to a college head-coaching job. He’s been mentioned for the vacancy at Ole Miss and the not-yet-vacant seat at his alma mater, Memphis.
But is Hardaway actually actively pursuing a move like that? He certainly isn’t running from it.
“It’s a huge compliment for any college to even think about wanting me to come in. I feel like I bring a lot to the table even though I haven’t coached college,” he told SEC Country on Monday after his team’s practice. “I feel like my NBA experience and the coaches I’ve had over the years, I’ve learned enough to be a head coach in college. But I’m really enjoying this right now and coaching these guys.”
Hardaway, a native of Memphis who became an All-American for the Memphis Tigers and then earned more than $100 million during a decade and a half in the NBA, has been mostly tight-lipped about all this college coaching talk as the Mustangs pursue a 3-peat and the program’s record ninth Tennessee state championship.
He was a bit more open to the idea Monday, however, going as far as to give SEC Country his pitch for any college athletic director thinking of taking a chance on him.
“I’d just talk about my experience — my experience playing in the NBA. I think that’s enough,” the 46-year-old Hardaway said. “If you played on the highest level, you understand how to run practices, you understand how to run a team, you understand how to get kids to know what they need to do. And basketball isn’t rocket science, man. It’s not like somebody can reinvent the wheel. You’re not going to reinvent it.
“It is what it is, and that’s playing hard on both ends of the floor, playing together on both ends of the floor, and if you can get your kids to do that — I’m confident I can do that on any level.”
Then there’s the primary reason Hardaway is being mentioned for these jobs without having had so much as an assistant-coaching gig at the college level: his ability to attract top talent. The No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2019, James Wiseman, transferred to East this season after playing on the Nike-sponsored Team Penny AAU team during the summer.
Team Penny also includes 5-star 2019 forward DJ Jeffries, while East’s roster is stocked with a half-dozen Division I prospects, including top-100 2019 forward Malcolm Dandridge and top-50 2019 wing Chandler Lawson (who has a freshman brother on the team and two older brothers at Kansas).
“My son played on the [Nike AAU circuit] for three years,” Hardaway said, “and I just built a lot of relationships with guys, watching guys, going around and seeing different games, kids coming up and shaking my had. I had relationships with [2017 NBA lottery picks] Jayson Tatum, Dennis Smith Jr., Bam Adebayo. To have those relationships, yeah, absolutely that is an advantage.”
In other words: Your move, Ole Miss, Memphis or anyone else looking for a former NBA star with recruiting cache to energize a stagnant program.