One by one, they entered the Laurie Walton Center at The University of Memphis. And to a man, they all have the same stated goal: To win an NCAA Championship.
And none of them hesitated or shuddered when the subject came up. And given that the Tigers boast the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, expectations are high for everyone.
Players are able to participate in limited practices during summer session, which started June 3. But on Tuesday, Damian Baugh, Boogie Ellis, James Wiseman, Lester Quinones, DJ Jeffries, Malcolm Dandridge and Precious Achiuwa met the Memphis media for the first time as a group. And the work toward their goal has already begun.
Jeffries admitted that the first couple of days were rough for him, but he’s quickly transitioned into the daily routine that Hardaway and his staff have lined up. He spoke to how he and Ellis passed on chances to play for Kentucky and Duke to play for Hardaway.
“It just shows the power of Penny coming into college basketball,” Jeffries said. “He is well known and one of the greatest. You can’t learn from anyone better than him Mike and Cody.”
Two players gave updates to their health conditions. Quinones said that though he had healed from a foot injury and was cleared to play, team doctors are proceeding with caution and he has been held out of practice. Dandridge, whose high school season was cut short because of an injury, said he would be ready to go by the start of the season.
When asked if anyone surprised him during practice, Quinones said he was impressed with the level of competition already brewing within the team.
“I like seeing all of the competitiveness every single day and everyone going hard,” Quinones said. “There is no time for anyone to go lackadaisical in practice, so we can go out and demolish teams with our talent.”
Baugh, the former Tennessee Prep player, may be soft-spoken but he has quickly become one of the best lockdown defenders in practices. Hardaway has always demanded his team use defense to develop their offense. Baugh has shined on both ends during practices, lighting it up from the perimeter.
And at the center of it all is Wiseman, whose early commitment helped attract all this top-tier talent. And though he was rated as the top prospect in prep hoops, Wiseman has been preaching for everyone to leave their egos at the door.
As the last of the group to commit, Achiuwa was the last to arrive on campus and was the last one to speak to media be presented to the media.
During his comments, Achiuwa admitted to intentionally delaying his focus on selecting a school because he wanted to concentrate on his high school team. He also confessed that he didn’t know Hardaway’s reputation before being recruited by him. When his high school coach asked him if he knew Penny was the new coach at Memphis, Achiuwa said he replied, “Naw, who dat?”
Achiuwa said he models his game after Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. “I watch a lot of big guards in the NBA. I take a little from all of them,” he said. “I watch a lot of Kawhi. We have the same body frame and style of play.”
Hardaway made headlines shortly after Achiuwa’s commitment, welcoming all of the expectations that come with such a talented class.
“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.”
The Tigers will play exhibition games in the Bahamas in August.