MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A sellout crowd of an estimated 18,000 fans welcomed in a new era of Memphis Tiger men’s basketball under Penny Hardaway at the 2018 Memphis Madness at FedExForum on Thursday.
The preseason pep rally for University of Memphis men’s and women’s basketball was full of energy from beginning to end.
Hundreds of Tigers fans lined up outside of the FedExForum plaza for pre-Madness events that featured live music and a “blue carpet experience” with former Tiger basketball players.
Once the doors to the Forum opened at 6 p.m., fans rushed inside to get seated for the much anticipated event.
The tone for the evening was set during player introductions for both the men’s and women’s teams. Players came out to their favorite songs with one of the best student section showings in recent years cheering them on.
But, no player drew more applause than Penny. The former Tiger All-American and NBA All-Star walked on the court preceded by rapper Derez De’Shon who sang his hit song “Hardaway," as Penny danced alongside his players. After two years of mediocrity under former head coach Tubby Smith, the reaction to Penny was a cathartic release for fans who expect the Memphian to take Tiger basketball back to national prominence.
“I saw the boxers do that all the time. Floyd Mayweather and those guys, but to actually have it done tonight got me a little energetic and a little hyped,” Penny said about De’Shon leading him on the court. “The song was already a great song, but to have him come in person and perform it tonight, with the crowd going crazy was nice.”
De'Shon wasn’t the only rapper who performed at the event. Memphis natives Moneybagg Yo, BlocBoy JB and Yo Gotti also put on a show, on the one-night-only Memphis Madness themed black court.
The two artists who were rumored to attend Memphis Madness, but didn’t were Drake and Justin Timberlake.
“I was really trying to get Justin,” Penny said. “Of course he’s busy. We never really tried to get Drake so when that came out, I think another couple hundred people were like, ‘I believe it. I think he’s going to be there,' and I was like, ‘oh my gosh. I don’t want to spoil the night for the kids, the women’s team and our team.’ I didn’t want to put a damper on the crowd if they didn’t see the people that they came for."
“But, when that came out I was a little down, because I knew Drake wasn’t coming.”
Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams hosted multiple recruits during Memphis Madness. U of M head women’s basketball coach Melissa McFerrin was excited to hear the response from the potential future Tigers.
“They really didn’t know what to expect before they came into tonight,” McFerrin said. "Maybe they have been to other places for the opening of basketball season, but I looked into their eyes at the end of it and I said, ‘what did you think of it,’ and they said, ‘that was really cool.’”
The men’s side had at least seven of the top 50 players according to 247Sports in the class of 2019 in attendance. The nation’s No. 1 ranked prospect, James Wiseman was front row for the event. Wiseman, who played for Penny at East High School last season, was with eighth-ranked prospect Precious Achiuwa, 26th-ranked Trendon Watford, 33rd-ranked Jahmius Ramsey, 35th-ranked Boogie Ellis and 47th-ranked DJ Jeffries.
Freshmen from both the men’s and women’s squads shined in the skills portion of Memphis Madness. Alex Lomax and Jamirah Shutes won the NBA Skills Challenge, Malianna “Rudy" White and David Wingett won the three-point contest and fellow freshman Ryan Boyce won the dunk contest.
Penny and the Tiger men’s squad open exhibition play against LeMoyne-Owen College on October 25 at FedExForum, with tip off set for 7 p.m.