Greg Brown spoke to reporters at Peach Jam Wednesday about how the Tigers are recruiting him.
Jason Munz, The Commercial Appeal
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Memphis assistant Mike Miller sipped on a paper cup of coffee just outside the coaches’ check-in area of the Riverview Park Activities Center on Thursday morning, waiting for his boss to arrive at the preeminent AAU tournament on the college basketball recruiting calendar.
And as has been Penny Hardaway’s routine since becoming the head coach at Memphis, he walked through the doors in style.
There was the wardrobe unlike any other coach – a familiar flat-brimmed hat and flashy sneakers with streaks of neon orange, teal and yellow.
There was the unmistakable swagger and aura of a former NBA icon who came here for years as a grassroots coach, status that compelled every security guard he walked past to greet him like an old friend.
There was the fashionably late entrance, so that Hardaway stuck out among Kentucky’s John Calipari, Villanova’s Jay Wright and Arizona’s Sean Miller as he settled into his seat along the baseline of Court 6 right as five-star recruits Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd and Scottie Barnes tipped off at 9 a.m.
If they weren’t paying attention last year, they are now.
“All eyes are going to be on Penny,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said. “I don’t think there’s any question all eyes are going to be on Memphis this year.”
If you think getting the No. 1 recruiting class in the country would make recruiting easier for Hardaway, you’re right. But if you think getting the No. 1 recruiting class in the country would make recruiting more difficult for Hardaway, you’re also right.
Memphis basketball is confronting this reality as it chases another batch of heralded top prospects for 2020, just about a month removed from welcoming James Wiseman, Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis and D.J. Jeffries to campus.
Hardaway and Miller have shown the rest of college basketball, fellow coaches and recruits alike, that their NBA-focused pitch not only gets them in the door with the best players in the country, but it’s become more refined. And more often than not, it gets the players to Memphis.
It’s why the Tigers are in good position to bring in another loaded 2020 class featuring several more potential one-and-done prospects playing at Nike’s Peach Jam this week.
The staff “just understands the situation better,” Miller said Thursday, and this includes a new layer to their recruiting efforts that didn’t exist at this time last year.
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What became clear during the first two days of Peach Jam is that what Wiseman and Achiuwa and Ellis and the rest of this year’s team accomplish during the 2019-20 season with the Tigers ultimately will determine the decisions of Hardaway’s top recruiting targets.
This simply wasn’t much of a factor when Hardaway took a group of players mostly recruited by previous regimes to the National Invitation Tournament this past season. He could sell a vision and a dream, and no proof was required.
“The next wave of recruits are going to wait to see how Penny coaches this class,” ESPN recruiting director Paul Biancardi said. “Last year, the win was the recruiting class. This year, it’s got to translate on the court.”
Unlike Calipari or Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Hardaway can’t fall back on a track record of shepherding five-star recruits and one-and-dones to the NBA yet. This is, after all, only year two, which is also what made year one such an incredible achievement.
Texas Titans’ Greg Brown plays at Peach Jam Wednesday.
Jason Munz, The Commercial Appeal
But whether it was Green or 2020 five-star recruit Greg Brown or 2021 five-star Terrance Clarke, who announced Thursday he could re-classify to 2020, they all had some version of the same refrain over the past couple of days when discussing recruiting processes likely to extend into next spring: “It’s a business decision.”
“You want to see what they do with a great team like this,” Green said. “They got a lot of star players over there, so to see what they do with this group, it’s going to be interesting.”
So if Wiseman somehow isn’t a top-five pick in the 2020 NBA draft after playing at Memphis (unlikely), or Achiuwa falls out of the lottery after playing at Memphis (maybe), it will make Hardaway’s pursuit of more players like them much more complicated.
For proof, all you had to do was find Pastner here.
Remember his first full recruiting class at Memphis, the 2010 one that 247Sports ranked No. 2 in the country and featured top-20 recruits Joe Jackson and Will Barton?
Although both had successful college careers, neither lived up to the hype that accompanied his recruiting ranking in college. Only Barton made it to the NBA, and he did so as a second-round draft pick.
Pastner admits now that hurt his future recruiting efforts.
“People are going to use anything they can against you,” he said. “The difference between the two classes is (Hardaway) has multiple guys in his class who could be a one-and-done, and that makes a big difference.”
That, of course, is why this is the best sort of issue Hardaway must overcome. Because it wouldn’t be one if Memphis hadn’t put together the best recruiting class in school history in 2019.
It’s why Hardaway walked into the gym the way he did Thursday, and everybody looked.
They’ll all be watching this year.
You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto