Memphis coach Penny Hardaway blasted reporters’ questions in his postgame press conference in an expletive-laden tirade Thursday night after his Tigers fell to 9-8 (3-4 AAC) with their third straight loss, a 70-62 home defeat against SMU. The incident followed a question about whether he’s ever lost faith in his ability to get the job done at Memphis as he navigates his fourth season on the job with little on-court progress to show for some impressive recruiting results.
“I think the one thing I can say to this media, because this media gets kind of f—ed-up sometimes when it comes to me,” Hardaway said. “We don’t have our full roster. Y’all know we don’t have our full roster. Stop asking me stupid f—ing questions about if I feel like I can do something. If I had my roster like they did, then I feel like I can do whatever I want to do. I’m coaching really hard, my boys are playing really hard. I’m not embarrassed about nothing. We have four freshmen starting. Y’all need to act like it.
“Act like we’ve got 17, 18 and 19-year olds out here trying to learn how to play against 22, 23 and 24-year-old guys. Come on, man. Stop disrespecting me, bro. Don’t do that. I work too f—ing hard. I work way too hard for that. Y’all write all these all these bullshit articles about me, and all I do is work. We’ve got young kids on the floor.”
Memphis was without its leading returning scorers from last season in Landers Nolley and Deandre Williams, both of whom are versatile veterans who were expected to help the team build off of last season’s NIT title. Williams has missed four straight games with a back injury, while Nolley has missed two straight with a knee injury.
But even without those two players, Memphis still deployed a rotation consisting of senior guards Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax, as well as two juniors in center Malcom Dandridge and wing Lester Quinones. Two of the the freshmen Hardaway started Thursday were five-star prospects Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren, who headlined the program’s top-ranked 2021 class.
The other was top-50 prospect Josh Minott. Meanwhile, the fourth starter who Hardaway characterized as a freshman is 21-year-old Miami transfer Earl Timberlake, who is listed as a sophomore on the Memphis roster.
Hardaway’s tantrum and insistence on blaming youth come as the program has underperformed since the Memphis administration ousted Tubby Smith following the 2017-18 season to hire Hardaway, a high school coach revered locally for his collegiate career at Memphis and subsequent NBA stardom. The Tigers began this season ranked No. 12 in the AP Top 25 and rose to No. 9 following a 4-0 start. But since beating Virginia Tech on Nov. 24 to reach 5-0, they are just 4-8.
While injuries and COVID-19 issues have plagued the roster, so has disorganization and poor coaching. Memphis ranked last nationally in turnovers per game with 17.9 entering Thursday’s action, and its defense has struggled to reach the levels of dominance it enjoyed in Hardaway’s second and their seasons as coach. The Tigers have not yet reached the NCAA Tournament under Hardaway’s watch, and it appears increasingly likely that only an AAC Tournament championship will get them to the Big Dance this season.
The AAC’s favorite, Houston, meanwhile has successfully navigated injuries to key veterans with no problem this season and is currently the league’s only projected NCAA Tournament team, according to Jerry Palm’s Bracketology.