East head coach Penny Hardaway makes a point as his Mustangs prepare for the annual hoopfest. (Photo: Terry Davis)
East is loaded with talent, again, this year. (Photo: Terry Davis)

The nationally-ranked Mustangs of East High School Mustangs will be back in action this weekend as the featured team in the Penny Hardaway Hoopfest.

This is the seventh year for the event (often called the classic), which annually brings to the Bluff City an abundance of talent, including some of the top players in the country. East enters the weekend ranked as the No. 5 five team in the nation, according to the USA Today High School basketball rankings.

The 2018 Penny Hardaway Hoopfest will take place over two days and will be played at two locations. Simeon High School out of Chicago has been a fixture in the event. Simeon has never lost to a Memphis while playing in the classic.

The New Tri-State Defender talked on Thursday with East High School coach Penny Hardaway to get the former NBA star’s thoughts on his team and the tournament.

Terry Davis: Why are you doing the classic?

Penny Hardaway: It was something we wanted for the Memphis (players) to compete against the rest of the nation. It has been very successful because we have allowed some Memphis teams to play against some guys they would have never played against; some guys that are in the league (NBA). The classic was meant for that, for Memphis to play against the rest of the nation.

TD: What is your fondest classic memory?

PH: The very first one. The first one is like your baby. People don’t know how hard it was behind the scene to get things together. Everything from getting food, to getting volunteers, water and the energy it takes to promote. Once it got up, it began to sell itself. I like it when the Oak Hill teams came. They bring that swag to the tournament, because of their history and coach (Steve) Smith has been around forever.”

TD: How special would it (be) to beat Simeon this year?

At East, there is a “way” to do things – on and off the court. (Photo: Terry Davis)

PH: “We played them in Florida this year and beat them by 10. It was a really good game. They are a tough team. They did not have any of their fans at the game and neither did we. They are going to bring 60 to 100 people down from Chicago, so it is going to be a much rowdier game.

TD: How have you been able to mess your talented teams over the years?

PH: It is tough. You have so much talent on the team. Most guys feel like they are being left out. The thing you have to do is to keep talking about brotherhood, unity and the chemistry. We talk about the ‘East Way” – that means we do things like battle for our teammates on both ends of the court and we are happy for our teammates. It has been working so far.

TD: Your thoughts on your team being ranked No. 1 in the nation earlier this season?

PH: It meant a lot. I don’t know if any other Memphis team in the history of basketball has ever been ranked No. 1 in the nation. It was definitely a milestone and I am happy that I got to. Being number one in the nation is real and it is something you can never take away from us. So I was really proud of that fact.

TD: How important is it for the city of Memphis to come out to support this tournament?

PH: I feel the city should come out, and they do anyway. But they should always come out and support the local talent against the nation. They are going to see some great talent and their favorite players and favorite teams compete against the nation and some top-ranked guys.”


Fans will be get a chance to see:

* Jaemyn Brakefield, Huntington Prep

* N’Faly Dante, Sunrise Christian

* Darius Garland, Brentwood Academy

* Cordova’s Tyler Harris, the 5’-9” point guard that leads the state in scoring at 32 points per game.

* Jeremy Roach and Brandon Slater, Fairfax (Va.) Paul VI

And, of course, there will be East stars Chandler Lawson, Alex Lomax and James Wiseman.

Friday schedule: Huntington (W.Va.) Prep vs. Raleigh-Egypt, 6 p.m.; East vs. Olive Branch, 7:30 p.m. All games will be played at Olive Branch High School.

Saturday schedule: Ridgeway vs. Sunrise Christian (Kan.), noon; Hamilton vs. Chicago Whitney Young, 1:30 p.m.; Whitehaven vs. Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, 3 p.m.; Cordova vs. Olive Branch, 4:30 p.m.; Brentwood Academy vs. Fairfax (Va.) Paul VI, 6 p.m.; East vs. Chicago Simeon, 7:30 p.m. All games will be played at White Station High School.

Admission for the event will be $12 on Friday; $15 on Saturday.