MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - In a word, it was a celebration.
The University of Memphis introduced Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway as the next head basketball coach at the Laurie-Walton Family Basketball Complex on Monday.
"Coach Finch would have been proud," Penny said about the late Tiger great and his college coach, Larry Finch. "This is an unbelievable day. I couldn't have dreamed anything would be better. "
Hundreds of fans packed into the plush new practice facility to welcome a fellow Memphian as their next coach. They cheered after nearly every sentence he spoke--as though he was delivering a State of Union address.
"I'm not just coming here to be a face. I'm here to make a difference. I really feel like I can do so with the help of getting fans back into the stands like the old school days from the Coliseum to the Pyramid to here," Hardaway said.
"It's really great looking out in the crowd and seeing all the familiar faces," he continued. "It's a family reunion. We're back to being family. I want to see the Memphis flags waiving on the cars; I want to see the t-shirts going again; I want to see the hats going again—like the old school days, and that's what we want to take it back to."
U of M President M. David Rudd admitted that they only had a little over 4,100 season ticket holders--down from over 16,000 during the Josh Pastner era--and it's well-documented that donations are down. But, Rudd made it clear that the expectations for Tiger basketball remained as high as ever.
"Given the nature of our investment, an unwavering commitment to excellence, the proud legacy of this program, and the investment of our fan base, we simply will not lower our expectations," he said, "I want you to hear that. We have not and will not lower the expectations of this program and this university."
"Penny Hardaway not only embraces those high expectations, he has represented those consistently throughout his life," Rudd said.
Hardaway admitted that he's heard the noise about his lack of coaching experience at the collegiate level, and he appreciates the opportunity that he's been given by the administration and the board of trustees.
"It wasn't easy to bring me here today because of my experience with college basketball," he said.
However, Hardaway does have direct connections to multiple high-level recruits through his time as the head coach of East High School and Team Penny--including the 2019 consensus No. 1 overall recruit James Wiseman.
"I'm looking forward to bringing some talent here that Memphis will love to see on a nightly basis," Hardaway said.
There are questions about Hardaway's ability to succeed in college basketball the way he has at the high school and AAU level, but Athletic Director Tom Bowen was pointed out in his closing statement, that Penny has succeeded everywhere and at ever level he's been.
"He's a champion. Everywhere he's been, everything he's done, he's done his best. He's an Olympian; he's an NBA All-Star; he's the finest high school player ever in this city; he was an All-American with the Tigers; he's been an incredible coach, and now his next move and legacy is to be the head coach at the University of Memphis," Bowen said.
Penny stood just to left of a mural of himself that hovers over the practice facility. He held up a Memphis State era No. 25 jersey with "Hardaway" stitched on the back. The crowd all came to their feet to applaud their next basketball coach--Penny Hardaway