The 2018 version of Memphis Madness was not like any other in the city of Memphis.
For the first time since the hiring of new head coach Penny Hardaway, the city and fans of the team had a chance to show their appreciation for the new life that he has given not only to the team, but to the entire city.
At its peak, the Tigers basketball team has been a unifying force for young and old, black and white, and even across political lines. The doors to the FedEx Forum were scheduled to be opened at 6 p.m., but because of the heat outside, fans were allowed in a few minutes early.
This was the first sold-out event for a Tiger’s basketball event since February 23, 2008. That event was the number one ranked Tigers hosted the number two ranked Tennessee Volunteers. That event was shown to a national television audience.
There wasn’t an announced attendance Thursday, but it was one of the hardest tickets to get for a Tigers event in a while.
The heat from the outside was quickly transferred to the inside of the building. Everyone in attendance was excited for various reasons. Some were waiting to see who was going to perform. Others to see this year’s version of the men’s and women’s basketball team. Others just wanted to cheer for their native son in his truly first public appearance on the court as the head coach.
“I just think this is the most electric atmosphere that you can find across the country,” said Head Women’s Basketball Coach Melissa McFerrin. “Our fans here show us a lot of love and we are appreciative of them.”
Before the teams were introduced the sound system of the Forum was pumping out a lot of Memphis music. The stands were filled up to the rafters. Some fans got their chance to be seen on the jumbotron. Others while on the big screen entertain the crowd with dance moves or moves that brought laughter throughout the building.
The university and Hardaway wanted the focus of the night to be about the basketball and the teams. They never advertised who was going to be a part of the entertainment. They did that for a reason they wanted the fans to come out mainly for the teams and not just for the advertised acts. The rumors leading up to the game had a number of celebrities on the playlist including Drake and Memphis native Justin Timberlake.
The men’s team all entered the court individually as they were introduced in black suits white shirts and black ties. That was the brainchild of senior guard Jeremiah Martin and freshman guard Tyler Harris. They took the idea to Hardaway and most of the team was receptive to the idea, except senior forward Kyvon Davenport. Davenport is a team player he just doesn’t like wearing suits, but he went along with it. The women’s team which also features seven new players were introduced in their uniforms.
The entertainment had the Memphis touch, with all of the performers being from the home town. BlocBoy JB, MoneyBagg Yo, Derez De’shon and Yo Gotti. When Hardaway was introduced to the crowd he was escorted by De’Shon while singing his hit song “Hardaway.” The intro was not like any other introduction. Hardaway walked out like a boxer would be heading to the ring and the crowd loved every second of it.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Hardaway said. “I saw the boxers do that all of the time, but to have it done tonight it got me a little energetic. The song was a great song, but to have him come in sing it in person and the crowd going crazy? It was nice.”
The night featured an NBA styled skilled competition, a three-point contest, a dunk contest and a scrimmage. The freshmen for both teams showed their grit in the competitions. Freshmen Alex Lomax and freshman Jamirah Shutes won the skills competition. Freshman Ryan Boyce won the dunk contest. Freshman David Wingett and freshman Malianna ‘Rudy’ White won the three-point contest. Wingett defeated White in a winner take all three-point contest.
There were at least 14 recruits in attendance for the event. Many were there on unofficial visits. The most notable recruits in attendance were top recruit James Wiseman from Memphis East, DJ Jeffries from Olive Branch, Trendon Watford, Boogie Ellis and Jahmius Ramsey.
The event although mainly to introduce the new team to the community, but it is also an opportunity to showcase your team to any potential recruit. The entertainment and atmosphere goes a long way in helping a teenager to decide if he wants to play at your college.
Members of both team were also eagerly anticipating to see who was going to perform. The list was a well-kept secret. “It really means a lot to have everyone come out and see us,” added Taylor Barnes.
Martin’s biggest takeaway from the night was just seeing the place filled up. This is his third coach since arriving at Memphis and he has never played in front of a crowd this large or loud at the FedExForum.
“You can’t ask for anything more, because it is 18,000 people and they are screaming at the top of their lungs for the guys and the women’s team,” Hardaway said of the environment. “They are having fun. This is like a pep rally for the team to come out and show what they have and for the recruits to come in and see how we do things in Memphis.”
The team will host a couple of exhibition games (LeMoyne-Owen Oct 25 and CBU November 2) before opening the season on November 6 at 7 pm against Tennessee Tech.