Join Today


Has Penny Hardaway learned from the mistakes of last season?

Early signs point to yes. (Image credit: Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
By Francis Carlota - April 22, 2024, 2:05 pm - 1 comments

Better yet, will it matter? We won’t know the answer to that question until a year from now. But one thing is certain. It must. The 2024-2025 season is the most important year of Penny Hardaway’s tenure as coach of the Memphis Tigers. Last season cannot happen again. Last season must not happen again if Penny wants to cool down his hot seat. You know that. I know that. He knows that as well.

About 8 months ago, I wrote an article asking “Is the 23-24 Tigers basketball roster Penny’s most complete team?” On paper, yes. Throughout Penny Hardaway’s tenure, he has done a good job of learning from mistakes and building a better roster for the following season. But basketball isn’t played on paper. Talent doesn’t guarantee success. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of factors that play into whether a team will reach the promised land.

Talent obviously helps. But foreseeing lackadaisical effort, frustrating inconsistency, a team-altering injury, and all the off-the-court drama that included a player quitting the team only for him to be brought back weeks later was impossible. Even those most critical of Hardaway couldn’t have predicted that. Regardless, it all happened. The result was undoubtedly the worst season of his 6-year tenure.

So, what now? With this roster in need of another complete makeover in the era of the transfer portal, we’re back in a familiar place. Memphis needs a team that fixes previous mistakes: 1. Inconsistent point guard play; 2. Lacked 3-point shooting; 3. Poor perimeter defense; 4. Not enough high motor bigs. Let’s take those one by one and analyze Penny’s plans to fix those problems.

  1. Inconsistent Point Guard Play

Jahvon Quinerly was fine. There were tantalizing stretches of brilliance where he reminded the country how good he could – maybe should – be. A 4 game stretch in January where he had full control of his game, hit 2 game winners in 2 games, and won AAC Player of the Week on January 15, 2024 is proof. Then, there were times it looked like he forgot how to play basketball culminating in him giving up against SMU. Overall, JQ was fine. But fine isn’t good enough. To win in college basketball, teams need a great point guard day in and day out.

Image Credit: Tulsa Athletics

Enter PJ Haggerty. Ranked the 4th best player in the transfer portal by On3, Haggerty is a silky-smooth bucket-getter with impressive vision. He averaged 21.2 points per game on 49.3% from the floor and dished out 3.8 assists. At 6’3, Haggerty was an impressive rebounder at the guard position as well. His 5.5 rebounds per game would’ve ranked 3rd on the Tigers last season. Though he’s not a sharpshooter, his previous 3-point percentage of 28.9 should improve with better teammates and more spacing. Haggerty’s no slouch on the defensive end either. His 1.9 steals per game and 102.3 defensive rating would’ve put him 2nd and 3rd last season at Memphis.

While PJ Haggerty is penciled in as the Tigers starting point guard, Memphis needs a quality backup as well. There was hope UCF transfer Jayhlon Young could provide steady backup play. But those hopes never became the reality. Though Young was a solid defender, his offensive skills were lacking. Memphis needs a sparkplug off the bench who can play with pace, energy, and inject life into the 2nd unit.

George Mason’s Baraka Okojie could be that player. The 6’3 guard uses his elite quickness to get by defenders with ease. He also showed flashes of quality playmaking. But the defensive end is where he excels. Though he only averaged 1.4 steals, that’s because he only played 24.4 minutes per game. Okojie averaged better steals per 40 minutes (2.4), steals per 100 possessions (3.6), and defensive rating (101) than Haggerty.

With PJ Haggerty already in the mix, Penny’s next priority is finding a quality backup point guard. Joe Cooper showed flashes of needed energy last season. But with his future as a Tiger uncertain, Baraka Okojie might be the answer. Memphis native Mark Freeman or FIU’s Arutor Dean could also provide quality minutes. If either of those players chooses the Tigers, they could be a needed upgrade from last season.

2. Lack of 3-Point Shooting

Many thought Memphis had the players to be good from deep. Jaykwon Walton, JQ, Ashton Hardaway, and Caleb Mills projected to be quality 3-point shooters. While each player had their moments, Memphis ranked 121st from 3, a far cry from those great expectations. But adding one of the best three-point shooters in college basketball should help. The former Wichita State Shocker Colby Rogers led the AAC in 3-point percentage shooting 40.9% on 7.1 attempts. But he isn’t just a catch-and-shoot player. Rogers can also knock down threes off the dribble at a high rate. This is a big-time get for Memphis.

Image Credit: Wichita State Athletics

Memphis is also interested in SWAC Player of the Year Ken Evans Jr., Villanova’s TJ Bamba, and North Texas’s John Buggs III. All three are quality shooters with other dimensions to their offensive games who should help the Tigers if they commit.

3. Poor Perimeter Defense

If someone asks me what the identity of a Penny Hardaway-led basketball team is, I’d always start with defense. From 2019-2023 under Penny, Memphis has ranked 57th, 2nd, 2nd, 48th, and 60th in defensive efficiency. Last season, 150th. That can’t happen again, which is why he signed Haggerty who should be an upgrade on defense from JQ. Memphis targets Aaron Scott – 98.7 defensive rating, TJ Bamba – 102.5 defensive rating, Arturo Dean – 97.7 defensive rating, and the aforementioned Baraka Okojie are more athletic and versatile defenders than last season’s options. Keep in mind, it’s still April. There’s lots of time for Penny to capitalize on the defensive talent in the portal. Well, he did.

Image Credit: Texas Athletics

On April 22, 2024, former Texas guard Tyrese Hunter announced his commitment to the University of Memphis. Hunter adds speed, scoring, and playmaking to the backcourt. But his defense intrigues me as well. Last season at Texas, he had a defensive rating of 104.5 and a 1.5 defensive win shares, which would’ve put him 2nd on the Tigers. A Hunter and Haggerty backcourt should help bring Memphis’s defense back to its former glory.

4. High Motor Bigs

This is not a knock on Malcolm Dandridge. Who knows where last season would’ve gone if it weren’t for Malco’s effort, shot-blocking, and improved paint scoring? The problem was Jordan Brown. Expectations for the Lou Henson Award winner were sky-high. Yet, he met none of them. He couldn’t run, jump, defend, or score. To make matters worse, his off-the-court issues caused more trouble than his on-the-court play.

Getting multiple high-motor bigs who can play with intensity is a must. Dain Dainja is a step in the right direction. The former Illinois center was under-utilized at just 10.8 minutes per game but made the most of each moment on the floor. Though he only averaged 6.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 0.6 blocks per game, his per 40 minutes averages of 22.7, 13.2, and 2.1 respectively would’ve placed him amongst the best at Memphis last year. At 6’9, 270, Dainja is much more athletic and quick on his feet than many would expect. He uses his body to displace defenders and finish at the rim or grab rebounds very well. Defensively, Dainja’s defensive instincts and timing make him an effective shot blocker.

Image Credit: Illinois Athletics

But Memphis isn’t done. Former Tiger, Oklahoma State Cowboy, and Ole Miss Rebel Moussa Cisse just entered the portal. As reported by Bluff City Media’s Hitmen Hoops, Memphis is in contact with Cisse. I know he had his issues during his first stint in a Tigers uniform. But his return to the Tigers should be welcomed. Cisse is a super athletic rim runner, rim protector, and rebounder who fits the type of big Penny loves.

Memphis is also in talks with 5-star freshman, Jayden Quaintance. The number 2 ranked center in the 2024 class displays effortless athleticism that allows him to play much bigger than his 6’9 height. His upside as a playmaker and shooter along with his natural talents make him one of the best prospects in the nation. He’s also just 16 years old. Remember, the NBA requires a prospect to be at least 19 years old during the calendar year of the draft. If Jayden chooses the Tigers, he would have a few years before becoming NBA Draft eligible. According to Adam Zagoria, though an official date hasn’t been announced, Quaintance has a visit with Memphis scheduled. With the likelihood of many other high-level players hitting the portal soon, let’s see who else Penny targets.

We know last season was unacceptable. The building blocks of a roster set to avenge the disastrous 2023-2024 season have been laid. PJ Haggerty, Colby Rogers, and Dain Dainja will join freshman Jared Harris, Nick Jourdain, potentially Joe Cooper and David Jones – who recently announced he will test the NBA Draft waters while still maintaining college eligibility. But that’s only 7 players if DJ and Cooper come back. There are many spots available and many chances for Penny to prove he has learned from his mistakes.

But will it be enough? Time will tell.


You can subscribe to more Insider content to get even more Memphis Grizzlies and Memphis Tigers coverage here.

Bluff City Media now covers every sport in the city of Memphis. Follow our Tigers, Grizzlies, and Soccer coverage on Twitter. 

Follow Bluff City Media on Instagram and TikTok - and subscribe to our Bluff City Media YouTube Channel

Make sure you check out all our podcasts that focus on Grizzlies, Tigers, Soccer, and more!

More From Bluff City Media


Leave a Reply

  1. US Dollar 2,000 in a Single Online Day Due to its position, the United qc02 States offers a plethora of opportunities for those seeking employment. With so many options accessible, it might be difficult to know where to start. You may choose the ideal online housekeeping strategy with the help vz-30 of this post.

    Begin here>>>>>>>>>>>>>>