MEMPHIS, Tennessee (AP) — The months of back-slapping, congratulations and the lovefest for a returning favorite son are over. It’s time for Penny Hardaway and the Memphis Tigers to get to work.
The former Memphis All-American and NBA All-Star tipped off his first camp on Tuesday. Hardaway was hired in March to breathe life into the stagnant program after a couple of pedestrian years under Tubby Smith. Hardaway said it’ll be great to go from four hours of practice a week to 20.
“I’m really anxious. I’m sure the boys are anxious,” Hardaway said. “We’re ready to get out there and get to work.”
This is the latest step in Hardaway’s inaugural season as a head coach at this level. He has brought a new enthusiasm to the program, which had become downtrodden in recent years. Since his hiring March 20, Hardaway has been the talk of Memphis appearing on television, giving speeches, throwing out first pitches, playing in golf tournaments and making other appearances to promote the program.
Hardaway, whose NBA career included stops in Orlando, Phoenix, with the New York Knicks and Miami, takes over a Memphis program that was 40-26 in the two years under Smith. Despite the winning record, the Tigers’ fan base dwindled with the team losing its traditional place in the city’s sports hierarchy.
The new coach has resurrected the lost excitement. Now he has to prove he can coach toe-to-toe in a league with the likes of Mick Cronin at Cincinnati and Gregg Marshall of Wichita State.
“I didn’t do it the traditional way of being an assistant first and then becoming a head coach,” Hardaway said. “I feel like I’ve paid attention to all the great coaches who have coached me.”
Hardaway plans to lean on his assistants including former teammate Tony Madlock, former NBA player Mike Miller and a former NBA head coach Sam Mitchell. He said he will rely on them, even if he doesn’t know just yet how much. He also plans to follow their advice because of their experience.
“I’m not the type of coach that feels like I know everything and ‘Don’t say anything to me.’ I’ll take their advice, and it’s up to me to make the final call,” Hardaway said.
For the opening day of practice, Hardaway rattled off a series of drills he wanted: weaves, 5-on-5 fast breaks, offensive and defensive drills. It’s all in the name of conditioning for the foundation Hardaway wants to allow him to have the Tigers running once the season opens.
“It’s a lot of running,” Hardaway said. “After practice, believe me, they’re going to go home and go to sleep.”