It’s hard to think of many things that could endear Penny Hardaway to Memphis fans any more than he already is as a hometown kid who played for the Tigers and went on to an iconic NBA career.
Flipping a recruit from John Calipari might well do it, though.
DJ Jeffries, a top-50 recruit from Memphis, has decommitted from Kentucky and will reopen his commitment, he announced Monday.
The speculation immediately centers on Jeffries’ future plans and if they include Memphis, where Hardaway was hired after Jeffries had already committed to the former Tigers coach Calipari and the Wildcats. Specifically, his father’s quote about Memphis from March before Hardaway’s hiring went official.
“We took a long look at Memphis,” he said according to John Martin of 92.9 FM in Memphis. “We can’t go on ‘ifs.’ It’s kinda crazy, because if Penny takes the job, then it would be something to take a long look at.”
Jeffries would be a major coup for Hardaway and Co. He’s a 6-foot-7 wing and a consensus top-50 player in the 2019 class with an offer list that included Florida and Kansas when he committed to Big Blue Nation. There’s an additional Memphis tie here as Jeffries is the nephew of former Tigers assistant Keelon Lawson, whose sons Dedric and K.J. played for the Tigers before transferring to Kansas after Keelon was demoted by then-coach Tubby Smith.
Looking even bigger picture, if Hardaway is able to nab Jeffries and James Wiseman, the top player in 2019 currently living in Memphis and being pursued by Hardaway and his staff, it would be not only a massive recruiting score but a major message sent.
Hardaway doesn’t have coaching experience beyond the high school level, but his name recognition remains a major asset for him as he looks to build a program. If he’s able to parlay that into keeping a pair of Memphis kids in the city while thwarting not only Calipari but the rest of college basketball royalty, that’s an announcement that Memphis basketball is back in a big way.
Now, there’s plenty for Hardaway to execute between here and there, but the fact that not only does that scenario seem possible but entirely plausible is reason enough for Memphis fans to be ecstatic.