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How Jonathan Pierre stayed sane during his only season with Memphis basketball

Pierre reflects on his year in Memphis. (Image Credit: Memphis Athletics)
By Roman Cleary - March 19, 2024, 2:00 pm - 1 comments

Jonathan Pierre is the man of the hour once again.

The 6-foot-10 forward is back in the transfer portal after just a season with Memphis basketball, he announced Sunday night. More than 120 programs reached out to Pierre after he left Nova Southeastern, a Division II school, last year.

And while he likely won’t get that kind of attention this time around, he still has plenty of possible suitors to choose from. Tennessee, Creighton, VCU, Dayton, UT-Chattanooga and UNC-Asheville are among the schools that contacted him in less than 24 hours, he told Bluff City Media Monday night.

“[I plan on] staying in the mid-major level and just finding the right situation for me so I can continue my basketball career at the highest level,” he said. “I just felt like it was the best opportunity for me to put my name in the transfer portal and find a new home, so I can find myself new opportunities and put myself in the best situation to achieve my end goal—eventually being a pro. And Memphis wasn’t the best situation for me to do that. But kudos to Memphis and coach Penny Hardaway. Coach Penny has given me a lot of advice and expertise that’s helped me grow as a young man in this transition to Division I basketball.”

Pierre, who enters 2024-25 with one year of eligibility remaining, spent his first two collegiate seasons as a consummate winner under coach Jim Crutchfield. The Sharks went 31-1 in 2021-22—the one loss coming against Black Hills State in the Division II Elite Eight—and a freshman Pierre averaged 4.1 points per game.

But both he and the team took things to another level in his sophomore campaign. NSU achieved perfection with a 36-0 record and a Division II National Championship. Pierre helped lead the way by putting up 14.4 points—third on the team—5.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists per contest. He also shot 50% from the field and 40% from 3-point range.

Switching to the Division I level, however, proved to be a much taller hurdle for him. He may have grown from 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-10 in a two-year span, but not even that could’ve prepared him for the rollercoaster ride that was 2023-24 Memphis basketball.

The Tigers missed the NCAA Tournament despite starting the season 15-2 and ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press (AP) Top 25. They went just 7-8 in their last 15 games and finished the season in embarrassing fashion by losing to Wichita State in their American Athletic Conference (AAC) Tournament opener last Thursday.

Pierre, meanwhile, rode the bench for most of the campaign—appearing in just 19 games and making one start. He seemingly earned a reserve role towards the end of the year after playing at least 10 minutes in five straight contests from Feb. 8 to Feb. 21, including a 10-point showing at Temple. But he never saw action again after Memphis’ visit to East Carolina on Feb. 29.

“It was definitely a reality check for me…[From] going into the portal and receiving 100-something schools in a matter of hours. It was like, ‘Yeah, you had all those schools. You have the potential. But you still have a lot to work on mentally and physically,'” he said. “It definitely hit when the season started and I wasn’t getting as many minutes as I thought I was gonna get.”

Pierre and the Tigers may have dealt with a lot of turbulence on the court, but that was nothing compared to what was happening off of it.

Center Jordan Brown—last season’s Lou Henson Award winner—mysteriously left the team in early December after a disappointing start to his season, only to return in mid-January. Forward Nae’Qwan Tomlin joined Memphis in mid-December after being controversially dismissed by Kansas State.

Guard Caleb Mills—the team’s best perimeter defender and vocal leader—was lost for the season during Jan. 4’s game at Tulsa after tearing his patella. Freshmen Mikey Williams and JJ Taylor both entered the transfer portal on Jan. 8. And center Malcolm Dandridge—the team’s longest-tenured scholarship player—was suspended for the rest of the year on Feb. 24 due to an internal investigation regarding his alleged involvement in an academic scandal.

Hardaway also alluded to possible locker room issues multiple times throughout the second half of the season, and even accused some players of quitting on the team after Memphis’ 106-79 loss at SMU on Feb. 18. But luckily for Pierre, he had a guiding light to help him deal with all the drama.

“My teammate Nick Jourdain helped me navigate through all this and kept me sane throughout the process. That’s how I navigated through everything if I’m being completely honest,” he said. “It took a lot of mindpower. Because coming from Nova [Southeastern], certain things didn’t happen…[Jourdain] as a teammate, coming from his situation at Temple, helped me navigate through all the politics and told me the right things to continue to push through.”

Jourdain, who averaged 6 points and 4 rebounds while shooting 58.6% from the field and 40.5% from 3-point range this season, has announced his return to Memphis for 2024-25. The Tigers can also bring back David Jones, Jayhlon Young, Joe Cooper, Ashton Hardaway, Carl Cherenfant and Noah Stansbury. Four-star high school recruit Jared Harris is the program’s only incoming player as of now.

Pierre, though he could’ve been back next year, is one of eight scholarship players who will move on to greener pastures. His time as a Tiger didn’t go the way he dreamed. It didn’t go the way he hoped. Heck, it didn’t even go the way he expected.

But he still has tons to take away from his lone season in the 901.

“I definitely learned patience. You have to be a good person at all times. And I felt like I deviated my personality towards the situation because I felt like I wasn’t playing [enough]. So, I probably wouldn’t get in the gym as much or wouldn’t watch as much film,” Pierre said. “Being consistent through all the adversity and staying true to my word, I definitely learned that. You gotta be a pro each and every day.

“I learned a lot from coach Penny. I learned a lot from his mindset. I kinda picked his brain a lot with his days with the Orlando Magic and his overall NBA career. He taught me a lot, not just basketball but [also] being a better man and helping me grow in that aspect of life…He was always genuine, was always transparent and was just an overall good coach…I just learned a lot from him in terms of being a good human being overall.”


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  1. I get a lots and lots of flack in Indiana because of my tigers I went to BTW so that’s my team for life, I think when the older players was not playing as well as they should have Penny should have played the younger guys like Bobby Knight would do that would have got them more in line because they hate to not be playing, and Memphis should have played in the NIT this year cause it has better teams than the NCAA that way the team would have had a chance to prove themselves . Just remember it’s about the boy’s not the coaches they was shamed also so it would have been up to many to show their worth don’t you kill them let them kill themselves are make themselves one last time or till they lost.