MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Penny Hardaway’s first roster as the head men’s basketball coach at the University of Memphis features two freshman point guards from Memphis, Alex Lomax and Tyler Harris.
Penny and Lomax have a father-son relationship, because he’s been coaching Lomax since the fifth grade. Lomax was Penny’s point guard in AAU basketball, and the two went on to win three straight state championships at East High School.
“I’ve been preparing him for this level since the sixth grade,” Penny said about Lomax at Memphis basketball media day on Thursday. “I just didn’t think that I’d be coaching him in college.”
Harris was the kid Penny always wanted to coach before he became the Tigers head bench boss, but never could. Harris played AAU basketball for Hardaway’s rival, Team Thad, and played high school basketball at Cordova High School.
“I tried to get Tyler to play for me on like three or four different occasions," Penny said. “I really wanted him that badly. The first time I saw him play was in middle school, but it wasn’t in a middle school game. It was an AAU game. He was just so dynamic."
"I just saw a little small kid, tough as nails, had deep range, no limit in his range and could score the ball really easily. I was always amazed at how he could score the basketball at his size.”
It wasn’t easy for Penny to land the point guard that had eluded him for all of those years. To get Harris to sign with Memphis, Hardaway had to convince Harris' parents, and former AAU rival and Team Thad head coach, Norton Hurd, that Harris would be in good hands under Penny’s tutelage. A recruiting pitch that included telling Harris, the Tigers weren’t recruiting anyone in the country like him, and that “he could come in and be a weapon for the school.”
“I felt like it was 50-50 to be honest with you, because I could never get Tyler to play for me in AAU," Penny said. “There was always this separation with us and (Team Thad), and I knew it was going to be an uphill battle. When I had my AAU team vs. Team Thad there was always this big deal going on with us. I knew I was going to have to go in there and convince them, and it wasn’t going to be easy."
“I got to Tyler first. He was the first one that kind of bought into, 'this could work. This could be really big for us,” and then the family came around later, and the other coaches came around later. He’s so happy right now. So excited, and I knew he would be, and I’m glad he chose to stay home.”
Throughout the years, the city of Memphis has picked sides between Lomax and Harris, and pitted them against one another because of their similarities in height and size, but the now teammates say their relationship has always been a friendly competition that’s still continues.
“To know that both me and Tyler are in a Memphis jersey, that’s probably one of the best things that happened in Memphis in a long time,” Lomax said.
“We matchup quite often on the court, not intentionally, but we’re both point guards, same size, same height and we just end of matching up. He makes me better because he’s very fast and very skilled. He’s almost like a professional scorer and I’m a defender. It just gives me a lot of help on trying to guard him everyday, and that’s a great aspect that he has."
Those matchups at practice also creates some trash talk between the two, which both say is left on the court.
“It’s just our way of having fun," Lomax said. I’m getting his best, he’s getting my best and whatever happens happens. Some days he might just be on point that day, and some days I might be on point the next time. It’s just on and off for both of us, and it’s really fun. We joke and laugh about it after practice.”
“On the court I think he’s my enemy," Harris said about Lomax. "He’s going at my neck, and I’m going at his neck, but it’s only going to make us better at the end of the day.”
Hardaway is thrilled to have both former Class AAA Mr. Tennessee Basketball winners on his first roster at Memphis.
“For me having coached against Tyler all those years it’s a blessing to have those two together," Penny said. “I’m sure they’ll say it, they’re the best of friends. To be able to compete against each other in practice every day, to make each other better is amazing.”
"That’s what you want. You want to be pushed every day. Those guys aren’t letting up on another, or anyone that’s guarding them or they’re guarding, so it makes it better for our team because those guys are getting ready to play.”
The two point guards have different styles. While Harris is a dynamic scorer and offensive weapon, Lomax is the defensive minded floor general. After years of trying, Penny now has both guys on his roster as he embarks on one of the most anticipated seasons in Memphis basketball history.