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New coach Penny Hardaway already having impact on Memphis

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — League championships, the NCAA Tournament and another Final Four berth all accomplished by teams with a healthy dose of local talent — before sellout crowds.

High expectations for any college coach. For someone in their first college job, the combination easily could be just too much.

Not for Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.

“I meet pressure head on,” Memphis’ newest coach said. “I mean I feel like I was born to do what I’m doing right now. I feel like I have a good enough staff and us as a crew and our team, I really love my team, and I feel like we can do whatever we really put our minds to that we can do. I don’t shy away from it. I know it’s there, but I’m ready for the challenge.”

Coaching his hometown Tigers seems like a perfect fit for the man known locally as just Penny. And fans desperate to reclaim past glory see the Memphis native who grew up here, played at then-Memphis State for another local legend in Larry Finch and returned to town when his All-Star career in the NBA ended as the man to restore the program to the glory that includes three Final Fours — even if only one still counts on the books.

Hardaway, who turns 47 in July, shares those same standards for the Tigers.

“That was my entire mindset coming in,” Hardaway said. “I wasn’t going to shy away from competition. I wasn’t going to shy away from saying what I really felt and what I meant. And I do want to get this team back to where it was. Getting to the Final Fours, getting to the championship games. But sealing the deal whenever we get back.”

What the charismatic Hardaway has done in less than three months on the job has cranked optimism higher than ever, and it’s paying off already.

Attendance had dropped to 4,583 per game last season, worst in nearly 50 years. By dipping so low, the university missed out on any revenue sharing from playing games at the FedExForum and the NBA’s Grizzlies. Donations to the athletic department dipped more than $1 million in the 2017 fiscal year with Memphis on the hook for nearly $10 million after firing Tubby Smith two seasons into his contract.

Now Memphis is expecting season ticket sales and donations around $4.5 million for the 2019 fiscal year with men’s basketball the big draw. Hardaway gave the university’s bottom line a big boost too by agreeing to a three-year deal paying $1.3 million this season, much less than the $3.25 million Smith was due.

That’s the result of the confidence in Hardaway whose basketball resume features 14 seasons in the NBA as a player and three straight Tennessee high school championships and an AAU program as a coach.

“I took a public high school from not being ranked to being No. 1 in the country and an AAU program that was just starting out to being No. 1 in the country, so my track record is pretty good,” Hardaway said. “When it comes to my coaching, a lot of kids and their parents have seen me coach on the EYBO circuit when I was able to coach. And then my experience in the NBA, that all just puts the icing on the cake.”

First, the coach with his own signature shoe turned over half the roster in high style, riding to visits in a customized Mercedes van featuring his own personal logo in the headrests. He added seven players including point guard Alex Lomax following him from East High to land the nation’s 19th-best recruiting class by Rivals.com . Hardaway now is competing for the No. 1 player in 2019 — Memphis native James Wiseman — against Kentucky coach John Calipari.

Hardaway convinced Mike Miller, with his two NBA championships, to join him and hired Tony Madlock away from Mississippi. Sam Mitchell, a former NBA head coach and player, also is being added to the coaching staff. Memphis just opened a new building for men’s basketball last December, and Hardaway wants to add some shooting guns to the practice court and upgrades to the lounge to bring the facility up to NBA-level.

It’s all part of Hardaway’s sales pitch for players wanting to reach the NBA.

“That message spoke loudly to these kids that we’re trying to get to our program back to where it used to be and that we wanted them to be a big part of it and if they wanted to go further, that we could help them get further to understand what it takes on and off the court to get to the NBA,” Hardaway said.

The Tigers haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2014 and last played in the Sweet 16 in 2009 — just before Calipari ditched Memphis for Kentucky. Hardaway has toughened up the nonconference schedule as well with cross-state rival Tennessee among the teams added for the upcoming season.

It’s a combination Hardaway believes will test both himself as a coach and his team and make Tigers’ basketball must-see TV again for a program considered family for so many people in Memphis.

“I’m ready, I’m very eager,” Hardaway said. “I took this job knowing that I was ready for it, and I’m all in right now.”

Louisville lands local four-star 2019 guard

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Louisville continued its hot stretch on the recruiting trail on Saturday as local four-star Class of 2019 guard David Johnson pledged to the Cardinals.

Johnson is the third top-100 prospect to commit to Louisville in the past two weeks as he joins a four-man 2019 recruiting class that should be among the best groups in the country. The 6-foot-4 Johnson is regarded as the No. 98 overall prospect in the Rivals Class of 2019 national rankings as he comes from nearby Trinity High School.

Previously committed to the old staff at Louisville, head coach Chris Mack and his staff were able to retain Johnson’s commitment, as he joins a potentially loaded recruiting class. With an ability to play both perimeter spots, Johnson should be able to get others involved when he’s playing on the ball while also being able to pick his own spots as a scorer.

Johnson joins four-star guard Josh Nickelberry, four-star wing Samuell Williamson and four-star forward Jae’lyn Withers in the Louisville Class of 2019 recruiting haul. With Mack and his staff getting three top-100 prospects in the past two weeks, Louisville is currently one of the hottest programs in the country when it comes to landing quality commitments.

And even though Louisville has been in the midst of recruiting scandals over the past few years, they still have all of the necessary check marks for a school to consistently recruit elite players. Now that Mack is providing stability at head coach, Louisville plays in an elite conference with elite facilities with one of the best fanbases in the country. We’re quickly finding out that recruits only care about what will help them over the next few years.

Virginia lands early 2021 commitment from prized perimeter recruit

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Virginia got its Class of 2021 recruiting efforts off to a positive start on Friday night as North Carolina native and guard Carson McCorkle pledged to the Cavaliers.

The 6-foot-3 McCorkle is a highly-regarded young perimeter prospect, as he’s been invited to USA Basketball events and recognized as a potential top-100 prospect. He’s also the first 2021 prospect that Virginia offered a scholarship.

That means Virginia is doing a great job of looking ahead on the recruiting board, as a Class of 2021 commitment gives them more time to close out 2019 and 2020. McCorkle visited Virginia for an unofficial visit in August and he evidently came away impressed enough to commit before his sophomore season. The early commitment from McCorkle could also give the young guard, and Virginia, time to potentially reclassify him up a grade if the Cavaliers wanted him a year early.

Of course, McCorkle (and Virginia) have plenty of time to change their minds over the next few years. But landing McCorkle early is also a positive sign for Virginia’s future recruiting as they’ve locked up a key target as an underclassman.

Miami dismisses guard from program

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Miami announced on Friday afternoon that Miles Wilson has been dismissed from the program for “not meeting team expectations.”

The school provided no other comment or explanation for the dismissal.

Wilson, a 6-foot-2 combo guard, averaged 11.8 points and 3.9 boards as a freshman at Mount St. Mary’s before opting to transfer out of the program. He sat out the 2017-18 season in Coral Gables as his mandatory redshirt season.

“Miles comes to the U after a very successful year at Mount St. Mary’s, where he helped them reach the NCAA tournament,” Jim Larrañaga said in a statement at the time Wilson committed to the Hurricanes. “Miles has the size, length and athletic ability to be an outstanding defender; in addition, he has the shooting and ball handling skills to be a real threat at the offensive end.”

VIDEO: Oklahoma State head coach Mike Boynton jumped out of a plane

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Don’t worry.

He was skydiving.

USC adds to top 2019 class with four-star recruit Kyle Sturdivant

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Andy Enfield’s 2019 recruiting haul already includes two five-star, top-20 recruits along with a pair of additional four-star prospects in the top-100. It’s good enough, right now, for USC to own the best class in the country.

And on Thursday, the Trojans added to it.

Kyle Sturdivant, a top-100 recruit out of Georgia, has committed to the Trojans.

The 6-foot-3 point guard previously committed to his home-state Bulldogs and new coach Tom Crean, but backed off that pledge last month. He also had offers from Cal, Clemson, Auburn and Florida, among others.

Sturdivant put up 16.2 points, 5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game last season while playing alongside top-five recruit Vernon Carey on Team Takeover Florida.

His commitment gives Enfield a point guard in an already loaded class. The Trojans previously received commitments from five-stars Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu and four-stars Max Agbonkpolo and Drake London, giving them the consensus top class in the country this fall.

The Trojans’ continued success keeps the trend alive of schools who were caught up in the FBI corruption investigation simply shaking it off and landing more top talent.

The kings stay the kings.