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What’s Up With Memphis?

Tennessee Tech v Memphis
MEMPHIS, TN - NOVEMBER 9: Head coach Penny Hardaway of the Memphis Tigers calls a play from the sideline against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles on November 9, 2021 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis defeated Tennessee Tech 89-65.
Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Every so often a train wreck happens in college basketball and while it’s no fun for the team in question and their fans (it was Duke in 1995 and it sucked), for everyone else, it’s high entertainment.

Well right now it’s Memphis.

The Tigers are struggling to say the least. They don’t really have a point guard of note but more importantly, the veterans are not thrilled with young stars Emoni Bates and Jalen Durant.

After the Tigers lost to Ole Miss - Duke transfer Jaemyn Brakefield had seven off the bench - coach Penny Hardaway went off.

In an interview with Seth Davis at the Athletic, Hardaway said “[e]verybody’s trying to get to the NBA off the ranking we had, but nobody is willing to sacrifice minutes, touches, anything.

“It’s been miserable ... I’m going to have to be a complete assh—e from this point on and only play the players that care. The main reason we have these losses is the veterans don’t want to take the young guys under their wings. They want it to be about them. “[There’s] so much negativity in our locker room with veterans being jealous.”

He also said this after losing to Ole Miss: “That’s the problem with this whole entire team, they’re entitled. They feel entitled to do (expletive) and I don’t like it at all. The city’s hurting, we’re hurting, but they’re not hurting after we lose and that’s the honest truth.”

Incidentally, one of the guys he’s apparently frustrated with is former Virginia Tech Hokie Landers Nolley. You may recall that his father was pretty critical of Mike Young and Virginia Tech. Wonder what he thinks now?

Hardaway’s flamethrowing might be right but it didn’t last long.

On Monday, he changed his tone and said the discord was on him and that he would work harder to get everyone on the same page.

That’d be good but is it already too late?

This isn’t the first time Hardaway has mishandled his program. If you remember the James Wiseman situation, Hardaway refused to bench Wiseman after the NCAA declared him ineligible. Memphis even went to court to challenge the decision and got a restraining order. It may have been a ludicrous ruling on the part of the NCAA, we wouldn’t know, but the reaction was not smart.

If you remember, he was hired after Tubby Smith proved to be a bad fit and was fired as a move to bring Hardaway in picked up steam.

So far, Hardaway has turned in records of 22-14, 21-10, 20-8 and 5-3 so far (like always, we say he gets a pass on the Covid season).

Smith had two seasons there and in comparison they weren’t awful: 19-13 and 21-13. When Georgia Tech’s Josh Pastner was there, he managed a career record of 167-73 with a best year of 31-5 and his last two seasons, which got him in trouble, were 18-14 and 19-15.

The irony is that, like Maryland, Memphis should be a great basketball school year in and year out.

But John Calipari aside, it’s been erratic for a long time. Dana Kirk ended up in prison. Larry Finch was forced to resign after a lack of success and an inappropriate relationship with a student. Calipari had tremendous success but the NCAA wiped out the 2009 season. Pastner left for Atlanta after wearing out his welcome and they hated Smith.

So in a sense, what’s happening now is a continuity of long-term frustration. They won’t run Hardaway out of town just yet - he’s too beloved - but so was Finch who, like Hardaway was a star at Memphis before he struggled as coach.

Uneasy lies the crown in Memphis.