Memphis Athletics

Memphis’ Karim Sameh Azab dies after leukemia battle

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Memphis junior Karim Sameh Azab has died after a nine-month battle with leukemia, the school announced Thursday.

He was 22 years old.

“The University of Memphis is deeply saddened by the passing of Karim Azab,” Memphis President M. David Rudd said in a statement. “It is never easy when someone so young has their life cut short. Karim showed great courage battling with tremendous fight and determination.

“He was proud of being a Tiger, and Karim will be missed immensely. Our thoughts are with his family, as well as his friends, teammates and fellow UofM students, faculty and staff. The spirit of Karim will never be forgotten at the University of Memphis.”

Azab experienced discomfort in his shoulder last March, and it ultimately led to his diagnosis. He had been undergoing treatment. He was awarded the Coach Dave Loos MVP Award “celebrates those who eude strength, perseverance and determination in the fight against cancer.” It is named for former Memphis player and assistant Dave Loos.

The 6-foot-10 Azab came from Giza, Egypt to attend high school in North Carolina. He also played for the Egyptian National Team in the FIBA Africa U18 team in 2014, winning a gold medal.

He sat out the 2016-17 season at Memphis while awaiting NCAA clearance and appeared in 15 games last season for the Tigers.

“It is with great sadness and personal heartache that we mourn the passing of Karim Azab,’ Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen said in a statement. “Karim was a wonderful young man who was excited to be a part of the University of Memphis and Tiger basketball. My prayers and thoughts go out to Karim’s parents and family.”

Mays scores 19, No. 22 LSU tops Memphis 85-76

Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images
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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Skylar Mays scored 19 points, transfer Kavell Bigby-Williams added a career-high 14, and No. 22 LSU held off a relentless effort by first-year coach Penny Hardaway’s Memphis squad, 85-76 on Tuesday night.

Each of LSU’s three freshmen starters — Naz Reid, Ja’Vonte Smart and Emmitt Williams — scored 11 points. Williams also grabbed 10 rebounds for the Tigers (3-0), who trailed briefly with about 13 minutes to go before surging ahead for good with a pivotal 12-1 run that included back-to-back 3s by Mays and Reid. Smart set up Reid’s 3 with a behind-the-back bounce pass from the right wing.

Bigby-Williams, a transfer from Oregon, never scored more than 11 in a game for the Ducks, and is expected to be relied upon primarily for defense this season. He made all seven of his shots, all from close range, including an emphatic dunk that gave LSU a 10-point lead with seven minutes remaining.

Memphis freshman Tyler Harris, who missed all six of his shots and didn’t score in his debut, was 6 of 13 on 3s and finished with 20 points in his second collegiate game.

Jeremiah Martin scored 15 points and Kyvon Davenport had 10 for Memphis (1-1), which remained within single digits for most of the game.

Mays scored from all over the court, mixing in a soaring, driving one-handed dunk with his usual array of perimeter shots. He hit three times from 3-point range.

LSU had trouble distancing itself from Memphis most of the night but appeared in control for most of the final 10 minutes, when its highlights included a roundhouse dunk from Williams and Reid’s double-pump, back-to-the-basket, no-look scoop off the glass that made it 74-64 with 4:35 to go.

BIG PICTURE

Memphis: The way Memphis played on the road against a ranked team provided an early indication that Hardaway’s first season at the helm could turn out better that the fourth-place finish predicted in the AAC preseason coaches’ poll. When Harris found his shot from the perimeter, it opened up opportunities inside for Davenport and Martin.

LSU: The Tigers’ dramatic upgrade in talent was evident in the fact they led 48-39 at halftime despite Tremont Waters, their best player from last season, not scoring at all to that point. Mays also asserted himself more, scoring more points in the first half than in either of his previous two full games while throwing down a monster first-half jam. Waters finished with eight points and eight assists. LSU’s top freshman reserve, Darius Days, had nine points and six rebounds.

UP NEXT

Memphis hosts Yale on Saturday night.

LSU hosts Louisiana Tech on Friday night.

POSTERIZED: LSU’s Skylar Mays throws down against Memphis

AP Photo/Bill Feig
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Skylar Mays just lowered the boom in Baton Rouge.

The 6-foot-4 junior delivered an absolutely filthy dunk in the first half of No. 22 LSU’s home game against Penny Hardaway and Memphis on Tuesday night.

That’s a dunk that a certain former Hardaway teammate and LSU alum could appreciate. Mike Parks, Jr., the poor soul who stepped in front of Mays, probably not feeling very appreciative, though.

Time for Penny Hardaway to transfer hoopla into hoop wins

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Penny Hardaway has revived the excitement in men’s basketball Memphis. Now it’s time for the Tigers’ first-year coach to transfer the hoopla into wins.

He’s been both Pied Piper and promoter, but whether Hardaway and his staff can be as successful coaching as they have in renewing interest in the program will be the real validation of his hiring.

“What does coaching consist of?” said Hardaway, who coached East High to a third straight state title last season before taking the Memphis job. “Is it something different from what I’ve been doing?”

Of course, the answer is yes — and he understands that.

“There’s going to be situations that you get into that you’re going to need help, for sure,” Hardaway added. “But for the most part, I think coaching is just understanding who you have and your team, understanding yourself and understanding the situation.”

Hardaway’s college coaching initiation will be Nov. 6 against Tennessee Tech after a couple of dress rehearsals against area teams LeMoyne-Owen and Christian Brothers University. Memphis hired Hardaway last spring after letting Tubby Smith go after community interest and fans dwindled at Tigers’ games.

Memphis is hoping its favorite son can pick up the pieces.

“I was always on the cusp of whether I should come to the university or not …,” Hardaway recently said. “Now that I’ve made the decision, it’s made me realize this was something I always wanted to do and never really put it into the forefront.”

In Memphis, just the name Penny creates high expectations at Memphis. In the American Athletic Conference, confidence in Hardaway has the Tigers picked to finish fourth. Nationally, excitement and projections are a bit more tempered for a program that went 21-13 last season.

One of those differences coaching in college is recruiting, but Hardaway’s roster already reflects what his hiring has meant for Memphis.

His freshmen class includes guard Antwann Jones from Orlando, Florida; Memphis products Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax, along with Ryan Boyce and Hardaway’s son, Jayden. The sixth member of the class is sharp-shooter David Wingett from Nebraska, a Native American and member of the Winnegabo Tribe.

While this year’s freshmen are impressive, the recruitment of next year’s class may present a clearer barometer of the early buzz surrounding Hardaway. Among the 18,000 who attended Memphis Madness — the first time the Tigers had a capacity crowd for an event at FedExForum since 2014 — was James Wiseman, considered the nation’s top recruit by many.

“We Want Wiseman” chants rose from the crowd for the prospect who played for Hardaway at East High last season.

And Wiseman wasn’t alone among the recruits attending the big show that included rapper Yo Gotti. Top 50 prospects Precious Achiuwa, Trendon Watford, Jahmius Ramsey, Boogie Ellis and DJ Jeffries were there as well. Jeffries, who pulled his commitment to Kentucky in July , committed to Hardaway and Memphis last weekend.

As for his coaching strategy, Hardaway’s staff consists of two former NBA players (himself and Mike Miller); a former NBA coach of the year (Sam Mitchell with the Toronto Raptors); and former Ole Miss assistant and Hardaway’s former backcourt mate in college (Tony Madlock). He considers that a lot of knowledge on the Tigers’ bench.

Not to mention a group of coaches who can sell recruits on firsthand knowledge of know what it takes to get to the NBA, and to succeed at that level.

“I’m not the kind of coach who feels like they know everything and ‘Don’t say anything to me,'” said Hardaway, who played for four NBA teams over 15 seasons. “I’ll take their advice, but it’s up to me to make the final call.”

As busy as Hardaway has been revamping the roster, he’s also toughened up the Tigers’ schedule. They play LSU, Oklahoma State and possibly Villanova and Florida State in a November tournament with other nonconference games including South Dakota State and a visit from No. 6 Tennessee on Dec. 15 before diving into league play. And Memphis will host the American conference tournament in March.

Hardaway, 47, provided a few hints of how he wants to play with conditioning work on the opening day of practice. He wants the Tigers to run with not a lot of half-court sets and a pressure defensive scheme.

“We’re going to be a high-energy team,” he said. “I like to speed teams up. I don’t like them to get in their rhythm. I like to keep teams off balance.”

Whether that works remains to be seen. But until then, the Memphis fans see only a return to the university’s heyday, including a time when Hardaway was running the Tigers and flashing through the air, making spectacular plays.

They hope the promise of his coaching ability is akin to his promise when he signed as a Tiger player.

“They’re showing their appreciation for me coming back,” Hardaway said of the reaction from the Memphis fans. “Trying to help rebuild and put the university back to where it has always been — and that’s on top.”

Memphis grabs four-star 2019 wing D.J. Jeffries

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Memphis landed another quality prospect on Saturday morning as four-star Class of 2019 wing forward D.J. Jeffries pledged to the Tigers.

The 6-foot-7 Jeffries has been a known national prospect since his freshman year of high school as he’s the No. 48 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2019 rankings. A native of Olive Branch, MS, Jeffries often found himself playing with Memphis-area grassroots programs, as he’s a familiar face when it comes to Memphis recruiting.

A solid athlete with some skill, Jeffries should be able to come in and potentially impact the Memphis rotation right away. Previously committed to Kentucky, Jeffries is a huge grab for head coach Penny Hardaway as it now gives the Tigers a second four-star pledge in the Class of 2019 as he joins four-star forward Malcolm Dandridge. Considering how Hardaway has done with recruiting the spring Class of 2018, and now with the Class of 2019, he’s done a great job of quickly bringing in local and regional talent to restock the Memphis roster.

Now that Jeffries is committed, the big focus will turn to Class of 2019 five-star center James Wiseman. Considered by some to be the No. 1 prospect in the class, Wiseman is a Tennessee native who played for Hardaway at Memphis East High School. Memphis is a finalist for Wiseman along with Kansas, Kentucky, Florida State and Vanderbilt.

Ranking the 10 best coaching hires heading into this season

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It was a relatively quiet Coaching Carousel in 2017-18 considering everything that happened in the sport of college basketball in the past year, but there still were seven high-major jobs that changed hands as well as a number of spots in leagues like the Atlantic 10, the Mountain West and the bottom of the American.

Not every hire made this offseason made waves, and not every decision to fire a head coach resulted in a lawsuit, but there was plenty to make the 2018-19 season fascinating for a handful of programs.

Let’s take a look back on some of those big name coaching decisions. 

Who made the best hires?

Did anyone make a head-scratching decision?

Who is guaranteed success?

Who is locked into failure?

Here are the 10 best hires of the carousel.

1. CHRIS MACK, Louisville

Chris Mack may have not been here before, but it was something close. When he took over Xavier from Sean Miller in 2009, there were high expectations associated with succeeding a wildly successful coach. The situation is different for him now in Louisville – he’s following one of the most accomplished coaches in the history of the game at one of its most storied programs and amid NCAA (and FBI) scrutiny – but the idea is the same. Win now, and win big.

Mack seems equipped to do both. He kept things rolling at Xavier, making the Musketeers a powerhouse, first in the Atlantic 10 and then in the Big East. He’s already scoring wins on the recruiting trail, which is going to be more indicative of his long-term success with the Cardinals than anything. He’s a proven winner and seemingly the perfect man to take over a high profile job in a tough situation.

2. DAN HURLEY, UConn

There haven’t been many high-profile hires in recent years that seem to just make as much sense as this one. UConn has a sense of urgency to return to prominence following a seemingly instant slide into mediocrity under coach Kevin Ollie after capturing the 2014 national championship. Hurley has made his name – well he’s built on the name his father, legendary prep coach Bob, put on the map and his brother, Bobby, helped perpetuate – in the northeast and would seem perfect to recruit the prep school circuit that has so much talent in the area. Getting the Huskies back to where Jim Calhoun had them seems maybe an impossible task in today’s landscape, but Hurley has the resume and talent to get them out of this rut and back competing for league titles and national relevance.

3. PENNY HARDAWAY, Memphis

My favorite hire of the offseason. Tubby Smith is undoubtedly a fine basketball coach, but he’s not exactly injecting a ton of excitement into a program. That was clear toward the end of his tenure in Memphis, which was hemorrhaging cash amid falling attendance figures and an even sharper decline in hope. Enter the most decorated and beloved player in program history, with an All-Star NBA career and all the Memphis recruiting ties any booster could dream of. Penny Hardaway may have zero experience coaching beyond the high school level, but he clearly resonates with recruits and adding Sam Mitchell to his staff should help whatever Xs and Os and organizational issues he’ll need to sort through. Hardaway is unproven, but he’s exciting as hell. The moves he’s already made in assembling his staff and getting to work on the recruiting trail suggest there’s substance to the style, too.

Penny Hardaway (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

4. JEFF CAPEL, Pittsburgh

This is an interesting spot for Capel. He’s had success as a head man at VCU and Oklahoma, but also experienced how fleeting all that can be in his final two seasons with the Sooners. A seven year stint on the bench with Coach K, a host of five-star recruits to your credit and a national championship on your resume is enough to get another high-major chance, though. Despite its historical success, Pitt is a more difficult job now in the ACC than when it was in the Big East, but it’s still got cache. Capel already has the Panthers involved with some high-level recruits – but it’ll be if he can reel them in that will ultimately decide how his third go-round leading a program is judged.

5. TOM CREAN, Georgia

This wasn’t exactly an exciting hire for the Bulldogs after Crean’s tenure in Indiana sort of petered out, but that’s probably not giving Crean enough credit for all he accomplished in – and the players he brought to – Bloomington. No, he’s not the exciting up-and-comer who brought Dwyane Wade to Marquette anymore, but Crean still won a ton of games with the Hoosiers. He’s also widely regarded in the industry as a serious grinder who didn’t just cash TV checks in his time off the bench, but rather continued to learn and study. Maybe he won’t have runaway success in Athens, but I think something like what Rick Barnes has done at Tennessee is very much a possibility.

6. ASHLEY HOWARD, La Salle

La Salle was never able to capitalize on its Sweet 16 appearance of 2013, with three losing seasons and two others one game above .500 following John Giannini’s second weekend run. The Explorers had eight seasons of sub-.500 ball in Giannini’s 14 seasons at the helm, in fact. So it makes a lot of sense to look across town on Jay Wright’s staff for an answer. Howard has had assistant stints at La Salle, Drexel and Villanova, where he won a couple of national championships, so his Big 5 credentials are impeccable. It’s hard to imagine La Salle doing better than this hire.

7. JAMION CHRISTIAN, Siena

Somehow, Siena went from an ugly breakup with Jimmy Patsos to snagging a 36-year-old head coach who already been to two NCAA tournaments and recruited well enough to Mount St. Mary’s to be perpetually (or so it seemed) losing players to up-transfers. This is a hire that seems destined to succeed.

8. DANA FORD, Missouri State

With Creighton and Wichita State seeking out greener pastures, Missouri State is well positioned to compete year-in and year-out in the Missouri Valley Conference. Ford, 34, engineered a quick turnaround at Tennessee State before things started teetering in Years 3 and 4, but he’s well regarded and would seem set up to succeed in an area the Illinois State graduate and one-time Wichita State assistant knows well.

9. TRAVIS STEELE, Xavier

If history is any guide, Travis Steele is going to win a ton of games with Xavier. From Thad Matta to Sean Miller to Chris Mack, the Musketeers promote from within and then go on to win. It’s simply what they do. Steele’s resume leaves little doubt that it’ll continue yet again in Cincinnati.

10. NIKO MEDVED, Colorado State

After a tumultuous run and messy end, the marriage between Larry Eustachy and Colorado State came to an end this season, leaving the door open for the Rams to pursue ties to the staff that helped them to back-to-back NCAA tournaments in 2012 and 2013. Medved coached for Tim Miles as he built Colorado State into a contender, and then stuck around with Eustachy for a year as Colorado State earned an eight seed and tournament win. Then it was Furman, where he improved their win total every year before leaving for a one-year stop at Drake. Medved knows what it takes to win in Fort Collins, and he’s familiar with rebuilding jobs.