Tubby Smith

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Tubby Smith vs. Penny Hardaway intensifies at Memphis


There are plenty of reasons that Memphis might fire Tubby Smith after this season. Attendance is way down, the Tigers are set to miss the NCAA tournament for a second-straight year and the general health of the program is in question after losses to the likes of East Carolina and South Florida.

Plus, recruiting hasn’t been very good. Smith’s 2017 class featured a bunch of marginal recruits and junior college players. Things don’t look much better in 2018. So while the present isn’t great for Memphis, the future, in large part because of the recruiting, isn’t exactly appearing bright.

Well, Smith’s long-time attorney has a theory why recruiting may be such a struggle for Smith, and he points the finger at his rumored potential successor, Penny Hardaway, who heads the ultra-loaded grassroots program Team Penny in Memphis.

“If you’ve got somebody that wants the job and they’re controlling most of the talent in the city, I’m not casting aspersions. I’ll let you draw conclusions,” Ricky Lefft told the Memphis Commercial Appeal on Friday “But (Smith) gets hit with by the local media that he’s not getting the Memphis kids. They’re recruiting the Memphis kids. They’re bringing them on official visits. They’re making the phone calls. They’re going to the games. They’re talking to the parents.

“It would only be speculation on my part on what’s going on there, but it’s the worst kept secret in America that (Hardaway) wanted the job and there may come a time when coach has exited that he’ll get the job.”

Team Penny currently has four players ranked in the top 100 in the 2019 class, and Smith hasn’t signed a Memphis kid in his two years on the job.

Whether it’s the case that Hardaway, a Memphis alum and former NBA all-star, is actually keeping kids from joining his alma mater as some point of leverage to drive Smith out is obviously unclear, but it’s a pretty pointed accusation to make. For Smith’s representation to say it to a newspaper is incredibly bold and probably a pretty good indication of how much jeopardy Smith’s job is with the Tigers.

The other thing is that it also serves as an indirect recommendation of the job for Hardaway. If he could keep kids from Memphis, it stands to reason he could get them there if he were the Tigers’ coach. Which would certainly help make the program more competitive.

Aside from throwing speculation Hardaway’s way, Lefft also claimed that Memphis brass told Smith that the Tigers were headed for the Big 12 when they lured him away from Texas Tech two years ago.

The first thing they told him is we’re going to the Big 12. It’s pretty much a lock,” he said. “He gets there and all of a sudden it appears as though they were never really a contender.

“There’s some people that now sit on the board that are some pretty significant folks, along with the president and both the athletic administrators who were part of the process, and (they) represented to him that this was going to happen.”

While the claims and innuendo are hard to prove or confirm, one thing is clear after Thursday – reporters should talk to Lefft more often.

Memphis forward Lawson to return for sophomore season

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Less than a week after going through the NBA Draft Combine, one of the most productive freshmen in the country last season has decided to return for his sophomore campaign.

Memphis forward Dedric Lawson, who earlier this spring went back and forth on whether or not to enter his name into the Draft (his father’s status on staff could have played a role in that), will return to school to play for new head coach Tubby Smith. Lawson’s decision was first reported by CBSSports.com.

Last season Lawson averaged 15.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, earning American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year honors as a result. With head coach Josh Pastner leaving for Georgia Tech the question many had was what would happen with Lawson’s father, who was an assistant each of the last two seasons, when Smith was hired from Texas Tech.

Ultimately the changing of an NCAA rule allowed Smith to reassign the elder Lawson to keep him in the fold, albeit in a non-coaching role. Dedric went on to go through the pre-Draft process to get feedback from NBA scouts and executives, with the decision being made that another year in college would be best for him. Lawson’s return gives Memphis a clear go-to option offensively, and he has the talent to (at minimum) make a run at conference Player of the Year honors in 2016-17.

Former Coppin State guard Kessee commits to Memphis

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With many of the key perimeter contributors from Memphis’ 2015-16 team out of eligibility, new head coach Tubby Smith and his staff had some work to do to fill out their roster on the recruiting trail. Thursday afternoon the program received a commitment from guard Christian Kessee, who last season played at Coppin State and will be eligible to compete immediately as a grad student.

Kessee took to Twitter to make the announcement, and it comes just a couple days after he took an official visit to the Memphis campus.

As a junior the 6-foot-2 Las Vegas native averaged 14.6 points and 2.5 rebounds in 32.5 minutes of action per game for the Eagles, shooting 39.0 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from beyond the arc. He’ll join a perimeter rotation that includes rising sophomores Randall Broddie, Craig Randall II, Jeremiah Martin and Dante Scott and redshirt junior Markel Crawford.

Of that quintet the most experienced returnee is Crawford, who made 25 starts and averaged 5.3 points in 20.2 minutes per game.

Memphis is still awaiting a decision from forward Dedric Lawson, who’s currently at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. Lawson, who was the American Athletic Conference’s top freshman last season, has not hired an agent and would have until May 25 to withdraw from the Draft in order to return for his sophomore campaign.

NCAA rule change that impacts Memphis coaching staff now official

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One of the more popular topics in college basketball in recent weeks was the status of Memphis assistant coach Keelon Lawson and sons Dedric and K.J. in the aftermath of the school hiring Tubby Smith. Would Smith keep the elder Lawson on staff as an assistant, thus in all likelihood ensuring that Dedric and K.J. would return as well? Would he let go or attempt to reassign Keelon, and as a result risk losing two players from an already limited roster?

Ultimately Smith decided to reassign Keelon to a non-coaching position, making him director of player development. And with the NCAA having a rule that those with a connection to a prospective student-athlete had to serve in a coaching capacity for the player’s first two seasons, the question was whether or not Memphis would need a waiver to pull off the move.

Luckily for Memphis the NCAA was looking into an alteration of the rule, and on Thursday with the NCAA not taking action on Proposal 2015-30 the change became official.

Under the new rule a coach’s two years on staff would begin immediately upon his arrival. In the case of Lawson this is key as he spent a year on former Memphis head coach Josh Pastner’s staff before Dedric and K.J. enrolled. With the two-year requirement ruled to be served under the new proposal, Smith could reassign Keelon Lawson without having to ask the NCAA for a waiver.

The next step as far as Memphis is concerned is Dedric, who ultimately entered his name into the NBA Draft pool (without an agent), withdrawing and returning to school for his sophomore season. As a freshman Dedric was the best freshman in the American Athletic Conference, averaging 15.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game for the Tigers. DraftExpress.com currently ranks him 28th amongst college freshmen, which makes him no sure thing to be drafted should he decide to stay in the draft.

At the very least the next month should result in Dedric receiving constructive feedback from NBA scouts and executives that he can use to improve next season.

K.J. played in just ten games last season due to a lingering Achilles tendon issue, averaging 8.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. The hope is that K.J. will be granted a medical redshirt for last season, thus preserving a year of eligibility.

Memphis to hire Texas Tech’s Tubby Smith

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Just about a week after Josh Pastner made the decision to move from Memphis to Georgia Tech to take its head coaching position, Memphis has found the next leader of its program.

As first reported by CBSSports.com, Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith has agreed to become the next head coach at Memphis.

Smith’s move comes after three years in Lubbock, with the Red Raiders reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007 this past season. Smith has led five programs to the NCAA tournament as a head coach, and in 1998 won a national title at Kentucky.

He arrives in Memphis with some talent to work with, led by the American Athletic Conference’s top freshman in forward Dedric Lawson. Lawson’s brother K.J., who missed most of this season due to injury, will be back in the fold as well. But there are some holes to fill on the roster, most notably in the backcourt as four seniors have moved on and Avery Woodson decided to transfer. The first open evaluation period of the spring begins Friday, so getting this move done before then was important for Memphis from a recruiting standpoint.

Under Pastner Memphis reached the NCAA tournament four times, with the most recent trip coming in 2014. But they won just two games in those four trips, failing to get out of the first weekend. That’s the task for Smith, who moves to a league that while solid at the top does not have the depth that the Big 12 boasted. That should make the process of contending for (and winning) conference titles more manageable that it would have been had he remained in Lubbock.

Texas Tech pulls off another upset, beating No. 3 Oklahoma

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After picking up wins over two ranked teams in Iowa State and Baylor, Texas Tech entered Wednesday’s game against No. 3 Oklahoma in search of another quality win for its résumé. Sure enough Tubby Smith’s Red Raiders pulled it off, beating the Sooners 65-63 despite Oklahoma having two shots at the game-tying basket in the final seconds. Aaron Ross scored 17 points and Keenan Evans 14 for Texas Tech, but the key for them was what they were able to do defensively.

Oklahoma was unable to get out in transition for much of the night, and in the half-court they struggled to find the clean looks they’ve taken advantage of for most of this season. The Sooners shot 38.2 percent from the field and 6-for-23 from three, and Buddy Hield struggled as well.

Hield scored ten points in the first five minutes of the game. From that point on he managed to score just six, with the Red Raiders pestering him all night long. The national Player of the Year candidate began to press some as a result, leading to his turning the ball over five times. Add in Isaiah Cousins scoring ten points on 3-for-9 shooting and Ryan Spangler going for just five on 2-for-7 from the field, and Oklahoma didn’t have the offensive production it needed to win outside of Jordan Woodard’s 25-point effort.

Within a week’s time Texas Tech has gone from being a team well out of the NCAA tournament picture to one that has three quality wins many other bubble teams can’t match. Even with Toddrick Gotcher (who may have traveled in the final seconds) and Devaughntah Williams struggling offensively, Texas Tech went toe-to-toe with Oklahoma thanks to the contributions of others. Evans has been a much-improved player over the last four games, and forward Zach Smith added ten points and nine rebounds as he and Ross outplayed the Oklahoma front court.

As a result Texas Tech is beginning to add wins that will enhance a résumé that already looks good from a computer standpoint. The finish to the season won’t be easy, as the Red Raiders still have games on the road against No. 2 Kansas and No. 10 West Virginia to navigate.

That certainly looks daunting, but so did the three-game stretch Texas Tech just took on. And with the confidence that Tubby Smith’s team is playing with, anything is possible for the Red Raiders.