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Penny Hardaway targets local media, says Caleb Mills could return next season

“I feel like if I leave [Memphis basketball], it’s gonna go down hard.” (Image Credit: Memphis Athletics)
By Roman Cleary - June 21, 2024, 4:40 pm - 1 comments

Penny Hardaway held back no punches Thursday afternoon.

The seventh-year Memphis basketball coach made an appearance on The Voice of MSCS’ “Taylor Made Sports” show—which spanned more than an hour—where he called himself an “easy target” for criticism by the local media, which he perceives to be full of “haters.” Hardaway’s Tigers are coming off a dreadful 2023-24 campaign that saw them miss the NCAA Tournament despite starting the season 15-2.

“It’s not even about reporting about what we do and how we do it. It’s more personal,” Hardaway said. “I keep all receipts. I see everything that they do. I just laugh, because every single thing this year—from the smallest thing—has been reported. And there’s been a lot more negative and personal things towards me this year out of all years because to me, it was an easy layup…People are trying to normalize me. That’ll never happen. You can’t normalize me.”

Hardaway also provided deeper insight to his mother Fae’s battle with cancer, a constant obstacle in his life since the 2022-23 season when Fae suffered a stroke in Orlando while her son was coaching in the 2022 ESPN Events Invitational. The Tigers’ plane back to Memphis was delayed by more than two hours since doctors wouldn’t let Hardaway’s mother leave the hospital out of fear for her life. They eventually let her go on the condition that she went straight to another hospital upon landing.

Her health only kept deteriorating last season to the point where Hardaway would leave Memphis’ shootarounds before each game to check on her and return to the arena shortly before tip-off. Hardaway eventually caught Fae having another stroke during one of his pre-game checkups, and he had to call his cousin to take her to the hospital.

“I never let what [the media] said about me bother me, because I was so locked in on my mom that I didn’t really care,” Hardaway said. “I spent from November to March at the hospital while we were going through that stretch of the positive—15-2 [in our first 17 games]—and the negative—7-8 [in our last 15 games]. But I never used it as an excuse…because I still have a job. That’s how I was taught.”

Hardaway has led Memphis to just two NCAA Tournament appearances and one American Athletic Conference (AAC) Tournament championship in his first six seasons as the Tigers’ head coach, a far cry from his aspirations of wanting “all the smoke” and leading Memphis to a National Championship that he voiced shortly before his second year. But he says he’s still “chosen” for this job because his motivation isn’t about himself.

It’s to have something positive for the City of Memphis.

“It’s sleepless nights trying to go, ‘Man, you’ve gotta get this together.’ Not for me, for the city, because I can leave. I could leave right now,” Hardaway said. “No matter who they’d go get [to replace me], it’s gonna be hard on them. This is not an easy job. I’m not making any excuses. I’m not going into my seventh year where I wanna be because my standards are high. But for college coaches and the ladders that you’re climbing, I was really ascending until this year when we failed. That doesn’t sit well with me.

“You got somebody in your corner that’s always constantly thinking about how to be better, how to get it right. I’ll be the first one to go, ‘Hey man, I can’t do it. I’m done,’ before I let somebody else that’s just a hater tell me, ‘You need to leave.’…Because I feel like if I leave [Memphis basketball], it’s gonna go down hard.”

Can Caleb Mills return next year?

Mills, a 6-foot-5 guard, was one of Memphis’ key pieces in its first 14 games before tearing his patella tendon at Tulsa on Jan. 4. He averaged 7.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per game as the Tigers’ sixth man before the injury.

Hardaway confirmed during his interview that he wants the Arden, North Carolina native to return next season. But Mills currently has no more college eligibility.

“We put a waiver in to try to get him back. He was key [last season] because he sacrificed his game and he was the leader verbally out there on the court,” Hardaway said.

Mills is likely ineligible to receive a medical hardship waiver since he played in 43% of Memphis’ games last season. NCAA rules state that a player must have played in less than 30% of a team’s games to get a waiver.

The Tigers are likely instead trying to get Mills cleared for a mental heath waiver, which stems from the 2020-21 season when he transferred from Houston to Florida State after playing just four games, a source tells Bluff City Media.


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  1. Penny is 100% Correct every show on 92.9 repeat the same thing all day if the first show is negative then they all follow and then they all are guest on each other’s shows and repeat the same garbage I never thought I would say this but I miss Weinberger and George Lapedis