For Penny Hardaway and the 2023-24 University of Memphis men’s basketball program, a deep run – at least the second or third week in the NCAA Final Four Tournament – is pretty much aligned with the hopes and dreams that fans have for the Tigers.
Fall practice is a key element and it’s underway.
“It feels good,” Hardaway said about the beginning of the fall basketball. “It is a new team, and it feels good to have more bodies. We did not have a lot of bodies in June and July. Having everybody here healthy and on the floor is good.”
Earlier and in pursuit of chemistry, Hardaway led the Tigers on a pre-season tournament trip to the Dominican Republican.
“Chemistry has been coming (along) well. The guys are holding one another accountable,” said Hardaway, who now is in his fifth year as coach of the Tigers. “That is when you know you have a good team. Guys really caring and pushing one another. The Dominican trip was good for us. We really bonded over there. We brought that back over here.”
With the regular season looming, there are key questions that remain unanswered for the Tigers, including the availability of All-Conference star DeAndre Williams, who has applied to the NCAA for an additional year of eligibility to play for the Tigers. He was denied a year prior to attending Memphis. With the addition of Williams, the Tigers likely would be ranked to start the season and be one of the favorites to win the American Athletic Conference title.
A more perplexing question is the availability highly-rated freshman Mikey Williams from San Diego. Williams is charged with five counts of assault with a firearm and one count of shooting at an occupied vehicle during an alleged incident on March 27, 2023.
His next scheduled court appearance is October 10.
On Wednesday (Sept. 27), the UofM released a statement detailing that Williams would not take part in any team events until his legal situation is finished. He and DeAndre Williams are enrolled for the fall semester at Memphis.
Meanwhile, Jaylon Young, the transfer from Central Florida, has been focused on learning Hardaway’s offense.
“It hasn’t been hard; just adjusting to everything from one system to another,” he said. “The hardest transition to the new offense has been the pace.”
“Championships, I want to win,” Walton said of his goal with this year’s Tigers. “That is why I came here. I want to soak up as much knowledge as I can.”
Center Malcolm Dandridge will be back with the Tigers after taking time to weigh whether to play his last year of eligibility elsewhere.
“It was a great process. It was a time for me to get my mind and body right,” said Dandridge. “I enjoyed the process with the (transfer) portal. Penny and I spoke all summer. He was supportive for me whether I landed somewhere else or back here. It was an overwhelming summer. I would do that again.”
Temple transfer forward Nick Jourdain said the “philosophy is completely different” at Memphis. “Both teams want to hang their hats on the defensive end. The main difference is the pace that we play and the focus on spacing. The talent we have are very versatile.”
Reflecting on the Dominican Republic trip, Jourdain said, “Our transition defense was really bad. We have to focus on that. We are trying to be one of the best teams in the country. We are working on defense. Bringing all the guys along with the defensive philosophy.”
The University of Memphis Athletic department is putting a twist on the annual introduction of the men’s and women’s teams for the upcoming seasons.
This year, a new tipoff event for the 2023-24 men’s and women’s basketball programs will occur on October 4 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Elma Roane Fieldhouse on campus. While this is an exclusive, in-person event for students, a free live-stream is scheduled for the general public.
“We are trying to engage the students on this one,” said Hardaway. “We have never done that before. I think this will be good for the players (on the men’s and women’s team) and the students.”
The Tigers will hold two exhibition games. The first will be against Lane College (of Jackson, TN) on October 29. LeMoyne-Owen College will visit the FedExForum on November 2.
The regular season tips off on November 6 against Jackson State.