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Jermaine Johnson to return to Memphis basketball

Johnson rejoins Memphis’ staff after being an assistant coach at Southwest for most of this season.
By Roman Cleary - February 3, 2024, 9:53 am - 2 comments

Memphis basketball is bringing back a familiar face to help turn this season around.

Former assistant coach Jermaine Johnson is returning to the program, sources confirm to Bluff City Media. The 46-year-old will assist the Tigers with player development and scheming.

Johnson, who’s been an assistant at Southwest Tennessee Community College this season, has performed a variety of roles on Penny Hardaway’s staff throughout the past four seasons. Beyond being an assistant coach in 2020-21, Johnson served as Memphis’ director of the player development from 2021-2023. Jamie Rosser replaced him prior to 2023-24.

Memphis enjoyed lots of success during Johnson’s first run on the staff. It won an NIT championship in 2021, earned two NCAA Tournament berths in 2022 and 2023 and beat No. 1 Houston to win the AAC Tournament title in the latter season. The Tigers also finished No. 1 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating in 2021, and were ranked No. 33 and 38 respectively the next two seasons.

Johnson, who published “The Ultimate Basketball Team Defense” for while on UT-Martin’s coaching staff from 2014-2019, received tons of credit for helping Memphis’ defense be as good as it was during those three campaigns. The Tigers (15-6, 4-4 AAC) are much worse for wear on that end of the court this season.

Memphis—having lost four consecutive games—is currently No. 91 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Opponents are scoring 81.5 points per game and shooting 41% from 3-point range during the Tigers’ losing streak. Hardaway tried to fix his team’s defensive issues with a starting lineup of Jaykwon Walton, David Jones, Jonathan Pierre, Nae’Qwan Tomlin and Malcolm Dandridge during Wednesday’s loss to Rice.

It worked for a short bit, but the lineup’s offensive output (one point) was so putrid that it was exiled after three minutes when Jahvon Quinerly and Nick Jourdain checked in. Rice, which is No. 195 in adjusted offensive efficiency, went on to score 41 points in the second half and finish its upset victory with 10 made 3-pointers.

The Tigers were ranked No. 10 in the AP Top 25 just two weeks ago, but now sit on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble with Quad 3 and 4 losses on their resume. They’re also down to No. 72 in KenPom and No. 77 in the NCAA NET rankings. Hardaway’s club has looked selfish and discombobulated throughout the past month, and something clearly needs to change.

“It just seems like a huge disconnect with this group right now. I can’t put my finger on it—like a humongous disconnect. And you can tell in our play,” Hardaway said Wednesday. “To me when the game starts, it just feels like the energy isn’t there to go win the game. It’s like surviving until another team gives up.”

Johnson—also a former assistant at Troy and Georgia Southern, and a former high school head coach at local schools Ridgeway and Melrose—could perhaps be the spark, the change Memphis is looking for. He’s helped the Tigers execute late season turnarounds before, and he now has an unexpected chance to do so again.

Memphis hosts Wichita State on Saturday inside FedExForum (12 p.m., CBS).


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    1. I have been following the tigers this year. Have moved to another state but haven’t stopped my interest in them. This new assistant coach has the ability to change their momentum, I believe. Let’s go on a run Tigers!