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Penny Hardaway will try to “speak [DeAndre Williams’ eligibility] into existence” as long as there’s a chance. Here’s why.

Hardaway looks to be as optimistic as ever regarding DeAndre Williams’ waiver situation.
By Roman Cleary - November 2, 2023, 11:10 pm - 1 comments

Penny Hardaway sat at the podium, talking to reporters after the Tigers’ 104-63 exhibition victory over LeMoyne-Owen.

But the game his team won Thursday night was hardly the story in the press room. Hardaway—as he’s been many times over the past few months—was asked numerous questions about the status of All-AAC forward DeAndre Williams.

Williams, a 27-year-old, would-be fifth-year senior, is hoping to become eligible to play for Memphis one last time in 2023-24. He announced his intentions to pursue a waiver from the NCAA on May 31. 

The application stems from the 2018-19 season, in which he was enrolled at Evansville but didn’t play due to being academically ineligible. The NCAA still counted that year of eligibility against him, however, citing a “delayed enrollment” violation. Williams and his legal team allege that he received bad advice from people in positions of authority while in high school, which includes having him enroll in an online institution that wasn’t NCAA accredited, and that the violation would’ve never happened without that poor advisement. To clarify, he used his COVID-19 waiver to play last season, and is now trying to get that first year of eligibility back to play this season.

Williams is currently training in his hometown—Houston, Texas—instead of Memphis. But Hardaway says that’s his choice and that he’s technically eligible to practice with the team if he so chooses. 

His initial waiver was denied by the NCAA, sources confirm to Bluff City Media. Memphis, however, resubmitted the application with additional documents provided by attorney Don Jackson in September. Some think the waiver will be approved, while others aren’t as optimistic. 

If it’s approved, Williams would be an invaluable piece to an already immensely talented Memphis team that already includes the likes of transfers Jahvon Quinerly (Alabama), Jordan Brown (Louisiana), David Jones (St. John’s), Jaykwon Walton (Wichita State) and Caleb Mills (Florida State). The 6-foot-9 forward is coming off his best season as a collegiate player in 2022-23, in which he formed a dynamic scoring duo with All-American point guard Kendric Davis, who now plays for the Santa Cruz Warriors (Golden State’s NBA G-League team).

Williams averaged 17.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game while shooting 53.2% from the field and 40.3% from 3-point range last season. He’s also been the proverbial backbone of Memphis basketball since his arrival to the 901 in 2020-21 in terms of both tangibles and intangibles. His statistical production speaks loudly enough, but it’s perhaps his energy and tenacity that make him such an important player. 

No matter how good or talented a college basketball team might be, it’s arguably a DeAndre Williams away from being truly great, which is partially why Memphis would jump from the No. 30 team to the No. 9 team in the country on if Williams is eligible. Hardaway understands this better than most. The hint of excitement in his voice when speaking about Williams echoed throughout the room Thursday night. 

“We want him back,” Hardaway said. “We want to have a chance to win a National Championship, and I think he increases that [chance] by a lot.”

Walton, who also spoke to the media following Memphis’ win, is also excited about the possibility of Williams being a part of the 2023-24 Tigers. The 6-foot-7 wing played against Williams and Memphis as a Shocker last season.

“If he [does] come back, I think we got a chance to be one of the best teams in the country,” Walton said.

But that’s the thing: if Williams comes back, not when. His eligibility status is still very much in the air, and could remain that way for even longer. Hardaway said he hasn’t heard any recent news regarding the waiver, but also says no news is good news. However, even he admits his optimistic tone on the situation could be slightly manufactured.

“I’m really just trying to speak it into existence, to be very honest,” he said. “I’m staying very positive because I want DeAndre to stay very positive as well…As long as we have that hope, I’m gonna stay excited.”


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