East wins 3rd straight state title, Penny's next move is 'playing golf'

East and Hamilton Bring the Gold Ball back to Memphis
Coach Penny Hardaway (Source: WMC Action News 5)
Coach Penny Hardaway (Source: WMC Action News 5)
East fan holds up 3peat sign (Source: WMC Action News 5)
East fan holds up 3peat sign (Source: WMC Action News 5)

MURFREESBORO, TN (WMC) - When the clock hit all zeros in Murfreesboro at the Class AAA State Championship game, it was a similar scene to the ones from the past two years.

East High School sprinted onto the floor in elation. They were champions--again.

For the third consecutive season, Penny Hardaway, Alex Lomax, and the rest of the Mustangs reigned supreme over the largest high school basketball classification in Tennessee. They defeated Whitehaven High School 72-50.

"It's a great feeling," Lomax, a Wichita State signee, said. "I can't explain it."

Shortly before the team gathered to hoist the gold ball at center court, Penny, wearing his black and blue state championship hat, became emotional--perhaps knowing that he may have just coached East High for the final time.

It seems like a foregone conclusion that at some point in the next week Hardaway will be named the next head basketball coach at the University of Memphis.

After the game, he was noncommittal but in a joking manner.

"What's your next move?" a reporter asked.

"Right now, I'm going to play golf. I'm the head coach at East," Penny said, trying to hold back his smile.

"Are you going to be the coach next year?" another reporter asked.

"Are you trying to fire me?" Penny responded, unable to keep from laughing.

Hardaway took a few moments to collect himself after the game. He posed with his team for their state championship pictures--just like he'd done the previous two years.

"I don't know if another team has had a harder road than us," Hardaway admitted. "Playing Blackmon in their home city, and Bearden, and you don't want to pay a team five times."

Whitehaven coach Faragi Phillips, who went 0-5 against East this year, said playing against a Penny Hardaway-coached team is difficult.

He said it's hard to call offensive sets because of how disruptive East defensively, and if you are able to get to the basket, he said, they have a giant waiting for you.

The giant he was referring to is James Wiseman--the consensus No.1 overall recruit in the 2019 class, who won his first state championship on Saturday.

"I can call myself a champion," Wiseman said, smiling ear-to-ear.

Lomax, who's been with Penny since he was in the sixth grade, sat much of the first half in foul trouble. He would come back to score all 14 of his points in the second half--including several crucial baskets when Whitehaven cut the lead down to as little as a single point.

Lomax ultimately fouled out with just under four minutes remaining and the game well in hand.

He walked off the floor to a standing ovation--a champion with Coach Penny, one last time.

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