With Larry Brown in the fold, what's next on Penny Hardaway's to-do list for Memphis?
Penny Hardaway had to fight for Larry Brown.
“Pretty hard,” the Memphis basketball coach said, following a pointed pause, Monday shortly after Brown’s introductory press conference.
Now that Hardaway can cross that one off his to-do list, he can move on to the rest of it. Roughly four months from the start of his fourth season with the Tigers, he’s got at least two other openings on his coaching staff with the potential for a third. Strength coach Darby Rich left for Texas Tech in May, while video coordinator Derrick Mallison was hired at South Carolina State as an assistant under Tony Madlock, who spent the past three seasons as an assistant here.
Hardaway said assistant Jermaine Johnson’s status remains undecided.
“They’re coming down to the wire, honestly,” Hardaway said. “(Johnson) had a one-year deal, so just trying to decide if I wanted to bring him back or go in another direction. Everything should be done pretty quickly, within the next couple of weeks.”
Something else still being tended to is the Tigers’ 2021-22 schedule. Memphis has road games set with Georgia and Ole Miss, and home games scheduled with Saint Louis, Murray State and Western Kentucky. Alabama will also likely visit FedExForum this season. The Tigers will face Tennessee in Nashville and two teams (Virginia Tech and either Xavier or Iowa State) in New York.
That leaves approximately five non-conference openings on the schedule, and Hardaway is still working to beef up the home slate.
“It’s difficult because we’re trying to get a Power 5 to come in here,” he said. “A lot of guys don’t want to come into Memphis, and I understand. But we’re going to keep plugging away. But it’s almost done.”
Recruiting also remains a focus of Hardaway’s. He, along with assistants Brown and Cody Toppert, were at Summer Jam Fest in Manheim, Pennsylvania, over the weekend. Five-star Memphis target Jalen Duren was among those participating in the event. Should he choose to attend college, Duren, the No. 1 recruit in the country, stands to benefit from name, image and likeness.
Hardaway believes his experience and connections from a branding standpoint would be valuable for any player who suits up for the Tigers.
“With me having my own brand, I definitely understand how to maximize off the name, image and likeness, and hopefully that gives us an advantage as well,” he said. “Being with Nike and all the endorsement companies I’ve been with for a while, we don’t want it to get to be too distracting. So, we’re going to try to shoulder the load. We’re trying to help the guys understand how to get it done.
“But, with me having a brand with Nike already, I’m excited about helping the guys moving forward on some ideas.”
Hardaway said everyone was available for Monday’s hour-long practice session. But position battles are far from settled – especially the point guard spot. Alex Lomax, who missed the final nine games of the 2020-21 season with an ankle injury, has the most experience there. But that doesn’t mean anything to Hardaway.
“It’s open,” he said. “I’m not going to give anybody the chance to say, ‘It’s mine.’ I think everybody needs to work for it. Obviously, Alex is a veteran. He’s a guy that’s won a lot of games for us, played a lot at the end of games. He’s the veteran. He needs to handle himself accordingly to be able to have that title.
“(But) he’s getting back healthy. He says he feels as good as he’s felt in a while after that bad ankle injury.”
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at email@example.com or on Twitter @munzly.