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Tracking the Tigers – Year six for Penny, the Dominican Republic trip and bonding

Terry Davis

For Memphis Tigers head coach Penny Hardaway, there was a bottom-line goal in taking a 12-player squad to the Dominican Republic for a set of three games.

“I want the team to bond,” said Hardaway, ahead of the Tigers’ departure for the exhibition tour. “I want the camaraderie, to learn one another and to compete as a team. It is not a stressful situation, let’s see how these guys respond in a game.”

Game one was Wednesday night. Digging out of a 23-point, second-half hole, Memphis battled back to within three points before succumbing 91-84. A game-high 30 points poured in by former Tiger Lester Quinones fueled the Dominican Republic National Team, which also included David Jones, a Memphis-bound St. John’s transfer who scored 12 points.

The dozen players who made the Dominican Republic trip as Tigers are Jordan Brown (Louisiana), Carl Cherefant (Freshman), Ashton Hardaway (Freshman), Jayden Hardaway, Nick Jourdain (Temple), Caleb Mills (Florida State), Jonathan Pierre (Nova Southeastern), Jahvon Quinerly (Alabama), Noah Stansberry (Western Kentucky), JJ Taylor (Freshman), Jaykwon Walton (Wichita State) and Jayhlon Young.

Caleb Mills (Photo: Terry Davis/The New Tri-State Defender)

Mills led six Tigers in double figures with 18 points. Quinerly had 13. Before the exhibition tour, Mills talked about the team that is taking shape.

“The guys that have been here have been working hard. I am excited for the season.”

On the competition at point guard, Mills said, “At the last school I was at, it was position-less basketball. It is here too. I don’t think it will be too much of a difference.”

As for merging all of the egos and talent on this team, Mills said, “The main thing is trusting Penny. Whatever he asks us to do, just buy into that.”

It’s year six for Hardaway as Memphis’ head coach. In his five prior seasons he has won at least 20 games, had two number-one recruiting classes, and made a post-season tournament each year, except in 2020 when all post-season tournaments were canceled.

When he was hired Hardaway promised to return the program back to relevancy. He’s done that. The Tigers won the 2019 NIT championship and, last year, won its first, post-conference championship. Memphis has played in back-to-back NCAA tournaments, which is particularly notable since the program before Hardaway had not been to a post-season tournament in eight years.

Hardaway will have to serve a three-game NCAA suspension to start the season. This stems from recruiting outside of the designated window to do so.

“I was wrong,” said Hardaway. “I was disappointed in the outcome. I am not going to fight it. At the time I felt like I could have it reduced, but they actually added to it. I am OK with that. I just have to do the three games.”

This summer, Hardaway had 10 former players that were on rosters for the NBA summer league. There were three players from last year’s team: Kendric Davis (Golden State), Kaodirichi Akobundu-Ehiogu (Kao) (Dallas Mavericks), and Devonte Kennedy (Philadelphia).

Most players that play in the NCAA have NBA aspirations. With so many players on the summer-league rosters, Hardaway has another recruiting tool.

“I think it is amazing. They all have great potential,” Hardaway said of the former players. “While they were here. I was doing my best to show what to look forward to.”

On paper, this season looks to feature one of Hardaway’s most experienced teams. And the Tigers still are awaiting the word on two veteran players, Malcolm Dandridge and DeAndre Williams.

Dandridge entered the transfer portal but did not rule out returning to Memphis. Williams is awaiting an answer from the NCAA on his request to restore a year of eligibility that was denied when he was at a prior school. In similar cases, the NCAA has ruled in favor of the petitioning athlete. There is no timeline as to when they will issue a ruling.

Jayden Hardaway (Photo: Terry Davis/The New Tri-State Defender)

So far, Jayden Hardaway, the coach’s son, is the lone returner.

“I like this group of guys. I am the type of person that can adapt to anyone that is put around me,” Jayden Hardaway said before the exhibition tour. “If everyone works hard and close, we can grow from there. I miss my old teammates. I am looking forward to winning some games with these guys.”

There will be no live streaming or live television for any of the exhibition tour games. The Tigers will match up with a Dominican Select Team on Friday (Aug. 4) at 5 p.m. CDT and again on Sunday (Aug. 6) at 4 p.m. CDT.

 

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