Penny Hardaway seeks to change lives after NBA career - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Penny Hardaway seeks to change lives after NBA career

(SOURCE: Desmond Merriweather Foundationi) (SOURCE: Desmond Merriweather Foundationi)

Former basketball pro Anfernee Deon "Penny" Hardaway is doing something that many could argue is making more of a lasting impact than even achieving his NBA title.

He left the NBA in 2008 and returned to Memphis, where he led the East High Mustangs to the 2016 AAA boys' basketball tournament championship in March as the head coach, with a 64-60 win over Cordova. Hardaway has become a figure of inspiration for many youth. Now, with the Desmond Merriweather Foundation, he is changing lives beyond the hoops.

Hardaway is spending his time working to ensure youth are not only successful on the court, but off the court as well. He is working to make sure ball players are taking their talents to the college court and once they cross the stage for a high school diploma, they are on their way to higher education at a college.

According to the Foundation's website, the concept of 'dream big' and pursuing dreams is what Hardaway instills in the youth and what the Foundation works to achieve in them, based on what Merriweather worked to achieve.

"Desmond's life blueprint has imparted the wisdom this organization needs to provide our young men with the will to dream big and understanding that while in pursuit of their dreams, always notice and appreciate the beauty in simple everyday moments. Falling down will be a part of life, but the true warriors are those who get back up," the website reads.

On Saturday, Hardaway saw three student-athletes cross that stage and fulfill a promise Hardaway gave to a friend many years earlier.

Desmond Merriweather, a longtime friend of Hardaway's, was an extremely successful coach at Lester Middle School. Despite fighting a battle with cancer, with Hardaway never leaving his side in and out of the hospital, Merriweather continued to coach. It was during his time at Lester that Merriweather asked Hardaway for help in coaching the team.

Hardaway became 'Coach Penny' as he helped Merriweather coach the team for free. Hardaway even instituted a mandatory tutorial program during this time, taught the youth about discipline, hard work, and having class. The entire time, Merriweather was right by his side.

Together, the pair led the team to three state titles. 

Those students went on to become East High Mustangs and that is where Merriweather followed them and became their coach, even while he was fighting the battle of a lifetime - colon cancer. Merriweather lost his fight with colon cancer just a few months after being named head coach of the Mustangs at the age of 41 in February 2015. 

Hardaway later took his friend's place as head coach, and ensured victory on the court with East only losing two games during his first year at the helm. But it wasn't just wins on the court Hardaway and Merriweather wanted. It was wins off the court. 

Merriweather wanted the team members to go to college. As a result, the Desmond Merriweather Foundation was created, and Hardaway made a promise that he would work to ensure the boys would go to college. 

The Desmond Merriweather Foundation, according to its website, "is devoted to helping young men in urban communities, whose promise may be obscured by their circumstances, realize what it means to believe in themselves and capitalize on their potential." The website also says, "the foundation is dedicated to providing deserving high school seniors with financial assistance in attending the college or university of their choice. While the organization programs will emphasize career oriented mentoring and lifetime lessons to build upon in order to have a solid emotional and ethical foundation, its higher objective is to provide character building knowledge, guidance, and direction to middle and high school students, ultimately developing positive contributing citizens in society."

On Saturday, they "did it for Dez" again.

According to Sharon Brown, of The Undefeated, Kobe Freeman, Robert Washington, and Courtney Carter received their high school diplomas and are on their way to college. 
Freeman has reduced his choices down to either Lane College or Texas College. He also received a scholarship from the Desmond Merriweather Foundation.

Washington will be attending Texas College.

Carter has narrowed his choices down to Henderson State University and Missouri Southern University. 

Hardaway is quoted on the Desmond Merriweather Foundation website regarding his dedication to continuing the cause of giving back to the kids, and his friendship with Merriweather.

"Everything Desmond did was for the benefit of our community. Even as he was fighting for his life, all that mattered to his was getting back to the kids. I feel very blessed to have called him my brother and now I'm even more dedicated to helping young men realize their God given potential," Hardaway said in a quote on the website.

Hardaway is working to achieve the mantra of the Foundation, and his friend's life, through the lives of the youth he touches. 

"Believe in what you want so much, that it has no choice but to become your reality...regardless of what life has handed you." (Desmond Merriweather Foundation)

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