Memphis Tigers' Penny Hardaway sets bar high for young team: 'We're going to win a national championship'
Memphis Tigers men’s basketball head coach Penny Hardaway is entering his second season with the team and is already expressing full confidence in their ability to potentially contend for a title.
The Tigers finished 22-14 and fifth in the American Athletic Conference last season and just missed out on making the NCAA Tournament, but that’s not stopping Hardaway from making bold predictions.
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“What do I know? I know when I have something special. When I see this group in action, see their abilities, I know what's at stake and I know what's out there,” he told The Athletic in a story published Wednesday. “The teams like Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, all the usual suspects. I've studied the film. I know who they are, but when I look at this group, I just say to myself, ‘We're going to win a national championship.’ That's what I know.”
And why wouldn’t Hardaway be confident prior to the start of the 2019-20 season?
Memphis has the No. 1 recruiting class, according to 24/7 Sports and ESPN. The school landed a pair of five-star players in James Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa. The team also added D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quiñones, Malcolm Dandridge, Damion Baugh, and Boogie Ellis – who originally had committed to Duke.
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“If five freshmen earn those spots, I would have no problem with it,” Hardaway said last week when speaking to the media, according to CBS Sports. “It's just [going to come down to] who is going to be the best at that position for us to win. ... They're going to battle it out in practice. And if it's five freshmen [who end up starting], I don't have a problem with that.”
The team boasts seven true freshmen, two redshirt freshmen, two sophomores, two redshirt sophomores, and only one senior.
The Tigers’ season tips off against South Carolina State on Nov. 5. But the team will almost immediately have some challenges in playing against Oregon, Tennessee Ole Miss, and North Carolina State early in the season.
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Memphis’ conference schedule begins with Tulane on Dec. 31.