MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The University of Memphis introduced Penny Hardaway as the new head men's basketball coach Tuesday.
"He's a champion. Everywhere he's been, everything he's done, he's done his best," athletic director Tom Bowen said. "He has the ability to do the extraordinary every day. He's an Olympian; he's an NBA All-Star; he was the finest high school player in the city; He was an All-American with the Tigers; he's been an incredible coach, and his next move in legacy is to be head coach at the University of Memphis."
Hardaway made his goal very clear: to bring the Memphis Tigers back to national prominence.
"It wasn't easy to bring me here because of my experience with college basketball," Hardaway said. "But I told everybody all I had to do was have the Memphis blood in me and the heart and the passion for winning basketball, and that's all we need. To me, I'm not a luck hire. I'm not just coming here to be a face. I'm coming here to make a difference. And I really feel like I can do so with the help of the fans back in the stands like it was in the old school days from the coliseum to the Pyramid to here. We've got to get those days back."
The move comes a week after Memphis fired Tubby Smith after he became just the second coach since 1970 to fail to reach postseason play during his first two seasons.
Hardaway, perhaps the greatest Tigers athlete of all time, recently led East High School to its third-consecutive state championship.
The hiring is close to home for Penny, who's been a part of the Memphis community his whole life.
"It's huge. It's really personal for me, I felt the city's pain; I understand that I can be a part of getting back to promise. And I'm ready to do so much work for the city, for the school, for the fans...it's time to get this thing back to where it needs to be," Hardaway said.
In response to critics who say he doesn't have enough coaching experience, Hardaway said his high school, AAU, and EYBL includes challenges even more daunting than college basketball.
"I'm very confident in my work and what I can do and what I can bring...I have to show them, but I'm ready to do so," Hardaway said.
Penny's path from Memphis high school All-American to Tigers head coach is about more than just basketball.
From his days as a skinny kid at Treadwell High, where his efforts have him enshrined in the National High School Hall of Fame, to his two-year consensus All-American career at the University of Memphis in the early 1990s, to becoming a four-time NBA All-Star and Olympic Gold medalist, Hardaway has done it all.
But through everything, he has always wanted to use his celebrity to help folks in his hometown.
Through all his stops in the NBA, Penny never left Memphis--always keeping a home in the Bluff City and always caring for his community.
Hardaway has provided Thanksgiving baskets for those in his Binghampton neighborhood every year.
He's joined with local churches in buying $1 million health care discount cards to help people with prescriptions.
He's donated $1 million to his alma mater to build the sports hall of fame on campus--it even bears his name.
He's always been in the thick of the Memphis basketball scene. He started the highly successful Team Penny AAU program in Memphis, building a strong national brand.
Penny got into coaching when his friend Desmond Merriweather became ill.
When Merriweather died of cancer, Hardaway took the team over and led it to a state title.
Now, Hardaway is coaching on a national stage for the prestigious program that helped him build his name.
Succeed or fail, the city of Memphis will always owe a debt to Penny Hardaway.