Amid Penny rumors, Tubby deflects job security questions

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - University of Memphis head men's basketball coach Tubby Smith wanted nothing to do with talk of his job security at Tigers media availability Wednesday.

"We're not talking about that," Smith said. "You want to ask me some questions about South Florida or the game coming up."

The Tigers held media availability ahead of Thursday's American Athletic Conference Tournament matchup with South Florida.

"I'm not going to answer that," said Tigers junior guard Kareem Brewton. "That's his business."

Despite the deflections from the Tigers, the city of Memphis has been consumed by the possibility Penny Hardaway could be named the U of M's head basketball coach for next season.

Speculation started Tuesday after U of M President David Rudd told the Commercial Appeal the Tigers' basketball program would be evaluated at the end of the season.

Then, CBS Sports' Gary Parrish--a former Tigers basketball beat reporter--published a report saying Memphis is "seriously considering replacing Tubby Smith and replacing him with Penny Hardaway," a move Tigers fan and local business manager Daniel Hiner said is good for Memphis basketball.

"Penny is a beloved hometown hero," Hiner said. "People will come out just to see him--let alone to see what improvement he could bring to the team."

Despite no experience as a college basketball coach, Hardaway's popularity with the Memphis fan base has only improved as the Tigers have struggled.

Hardaway has been highly successful as the head basketball coach at East High School.

The Mustangs are ranked top five in the nation--No. 1 in Tennessee--and are back-to-back defending Class AAA State Champions. East is favored to win the state title again this season.

The Mustangs starting lineup includes James Wiseman--the top player in the class of 2019--who isn't considering playing for the Tigers right now.

In his two years at Memphis, Smith has not signed or gotten a commitment from a Memphis-area player.

"I don't talk about recruiting. That's not what I do, and it's illegal, number one, to even comment about it, but yeah, it's a very fertile area. Everybody knows that. We've had players from here in the past wherever we've been," Smith said.

The hope for Tiger fans is Hardaway can inject excitement back into the program.

He has ties to local stars through his position at East, and his highly successful AAU program--Team Penny.

CBS Sports' report says Hardaway would target hall of fame coach Larry Brown as a top assistant.

Meanwhile, the Tigers are hoping to make it through the AAC Tournament without all of the distractions affecting them.

"(It is) unfortunate that something like that is out there at this time," Smith said. "As we go into conference play, I think the team has really matured. We have men that understand that we have a job and a role to do."

"It's not really nothing to worry about, because it's not in our hands," Tigers junior guard Jeremiah Martin said. "We're just going to go out and play ball. While he's here, we're going to respect him and play for him and honor his presence, but it's just not in our hands. We don't have the say so on whether he's here or not."

WMC Action News 5 Sports reached out to Penny Hardaway for a comment. Hardaway has yet to respond.

Fifth-seeded Memphis faces 12-seeded South Florida in the first round of the AAC Tournament on Thursday at 1 p.m. in Orlando, Florida.

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