Hardaway welcomes the high stakes and spotlight: “We Want the Smoke”

Tigers coach addresses media for first time since historic No. 1 recruiting class


The recruiting class Memphis Tigers Head Coach Penny Hardaway has assembled may be a shock to most. However, Hardaway had always envisioned getting a top recruiting class with his late friend Desmond Merriweather and he is not surprised by having this class. Nor is he shying away from the expectations of a stacked roster.

“This is what we want. This is Memphis,” Hardaway said in his first media session since capping his recruiting season with 5-star prospect Precious Achiuwa. “We don’t bluff. We want all of the smoke. We want everything to be about Memphis. We want it to be, ‘You guys are supposed to do this.’ We want to reach that. That is what this city wants.

“We don’t want to shy away from anything,” he continued. “We want to win a national championship. We want to hang one in this building and especially at the FedExForum.”

Longtime friends, Merriweather and Hardaway frequently talked about how Penny would become head coach at Memphis and compete for a national championship. After signing Precious Achiuwa, the Tigers have the No. 1 recruiting class and can compete with some of the best collegiate teams in the country.

The recruiting class is loaded with five- and four-star talent. James Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa are five stars, DJ Jeffries, Boogie Ellis, Damion Baugh, Malcolm Dandridge and Lester Quinones are all four stars. Another Memphis commit, Rayjon Tucker, has not enrolled with the University and has kept his name in the NBA draft. Hardaway was not allowed to comment on Tucker or his status.

But the rest of his roster? Hardaway talked plenty about them.

“I am excited for the city, the staff and for the school. What we have done this summer is amazing. To land the No. 1 recruiting class in the country is a blessing. I wanted this so badly for so many reasons. To be able to this in such a short amount of time and I want to thank God for this opportunity.”

Just over a year ago, when Hardaway was announced as head coach, he openly aimed to return Memphis to national prominence. He wanted to compete with the top schools. And now, he has out-recruited storied college programs and coaches at Duke, Kansas and Kentucky for some of the top high school talent in the country.

Hardaway and the Memphis basketball program has been prominently displayed across all of ESPN stations, because of this recruiting class. It is not normal for a school like Memphis to get this type of class. Hardaway appeared on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” to talk Tigers.

Hardaway said his players have already embraced the sacrifices that will come with having so many talented players on the roster.

“Boogie, Precious, Lester and James all started a group chat,” Hardaway said. “They added everyone else to the group chat. And all they have been talking about has been sacrifice.”

Tigers fans still have hopes of landing R.J. Hampton and Trendon Watford. So is he done recruiting?

“I don’t know yet,” and he just smiled and rest of the media gathered just laughed.

The team will get an early opportunity to develop team chemistry. All incoming players will be in summer school starting on June 3. The team will also spend seven days in the Bahamas. The Tigers will play four games. Hardaway would like for all of Memphis to make the trip to the Bahamas to see the team play.

The schedule has not been set as of yet. However, Hardaway did say that the possible Georgetown game will not take place this season. The big networks may step in and schedule a few national games for the Tigers against other national powers.