Memphis is having a relatively mediocre and less-than-noteworthy season isn’t stopping Penny Hardaway from making news.
Last month, it was going after Tennessee’s Rick Barnes. Now, it’s coaches all around the country.
“I’m getting used to this as a coach because it’s a little jealousy from a lot of these coaches around the country,” Hardaway said Monday, per The Associated Press. “I do understand that because we are NBA players trying to come back, and we didn’t have any experience as college coaches. So we didn’t quote, unquote, ‘Pay our dues.’ So the coaches and their so-called boys that are in the media they’re going to always throw jabs at us.”
The remarks come after former Houston coach Tom Penders took issue with Hardaway saying his Tigers could play with any team in the country after they beat UCF this weekend, according to Geoff Calkins of the Daily Memphian. Memphis is now 13-7 overall and 5-2 in the AAC with losses to Temple and Houston.
“Woah! Beat Houston before you make such a statement,” Penders tweeted. “Houston would be a much better measuring stick. What is UCF’s March Madness record? I love Penny but he just put a target on his own back if Memphis doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament. Be happy about a nice home win!”
It’s a relatively mild statement, but that didn’t really stop Hardaway from essentially going scorched-earth with his response.
“For sure, I definitely feel like there’s a target on my back,” Hardaway said. “There’s a lot of people that don’t want me to succeed because it’s going to look like an NBA guy came back with no experience and won so of course I relish in that.”
Hardaway may be overstating the situation some given Memphis hasn’t actually done a lot of winning yet in his first season at the helm, but it’s hard not to believe that sentiment does exist to some extent. Guys who grind at outposts and lower levels all around the country trying to get a job half as good as Memphis probably don’t love seeing a high school coach (who happens to be an NBA icon, but no matter) swoop in and get a plum gig. The fact that he can get a player like five-star recruit James Wiseman probably makes the bigger names in the sport take notice, too.
The more notable thing here, though, is simply the fact Hardaway isn’t shying away from the spotlight or controversy. Nor should he. If people don’t like that he got the Memphis job, that’s their issue. Being an NBA all-star and a player in the high school and grassroots circuit means you don’t have to go the traditional route. It’s probably fair to say conventional rules don’t apply if Chris Rock voices your alter ego, either. Them’s the breaks, fellas.
Ultimately, Hardaway is going to be judged by his results. We saw it at Iowa State with Fred Hoiberg, who had no coaching experience and wound up on an NBA bench five years later after a Sweet 16 and two Big 12 tournament titles. We’ve seen mixed results at St. John’s with Chris Mullin, and we’ll see at Georgetown with Patrick Ewing (though he certainly paid his dues on NBA benches for years).
The bottom line here is that Hardaway isn’t going to shy away from anything or anyone. That’s something you’re afforded when you’re a legend at your school and had the NBA career Hardaway put together. Who knows if it’ll eventually make Memphis into the winner he wants, but it sure has been entertaining to start. Imagine if they actually start winning some games. Doesn’t feel like Hardaway will need Rock to voice his trash talk for this second career.