Fans, students react to U of M hiring Penny Hardaway

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Weeks of speculation and Twitter rumors came true on Tuesday when Penny Hardaway was officially introduced as the Memphis Tigers' new head men's basketball coach.

Hundreds of students, alumni, donors, and fans packed the Laurie-Walton Family Basketball Center to witness what many are calling one of the most memorable announcements in Tiger basketball history.

"It's one of the most exciting times I've seen in the history of this program, and in the history of this university," U of M Board of Trustee member Cato Johnson said.

With Tiger basketball attendance at a nearly 50-year low, Memphis needed a shot in the arm to put fans back in the seats at FedExForum.

Many Memphis supporters, like former Tiger Andre Turner, believe Penny can take Memphis back to its glory days.

"Not just a shot in the arm," Turner said. "You're hiring someone that has an incredibly competitive nature."

"I told everybody, all I had to do was have the Memphis blood in me and the heart and passion for winning basketball and that's all we need," Hardaway said. "Losing is not an option in my mind. It's not."

It's not just fans, though. Downtown developer Billy Orgel, who's also on the Tigers Ambassadors Board, sees Penny on the FedExForum sideline as a positive for the Downtown Memphis economy.

"I think it's important for the development of downtown for the Tigers to be good," Orgel said. "To fill the seats in the stands, and I think it brings up everybody downtown. Whether it's parking, whether it's restaurants, whether it's bars, and even some of the shopping. I think it's going to be fantastic, and I think it's going to inject some excitement for the program."

However, it was a bittersweet moment for East High School students.

East students said they are looking forward to watching Hardaway coach games for the Memphis Tigers, but they are also sad to see him leave their school.

In his last three years as East High School head coach, Hardaway has led the East basketball team to the state championship.

He's been a coach on the court and a role model to all students off the court.

"He is a good person to this environment and this community," one student said. "Way back he gave back to the community, helping people out."

With his new job, Hardaway is now stepping away from the winning program he helped create at East High.

Students said they are sad to see him go, but excited for the possible impact he could have on Memphis basketball.

"He's just a good coach overall anyways," one student said.

Hardaway has transformed the Memphis basketball scene. He got into coaching when his friend became ill, and he took over a middle school team.

From there he created a highly successful AAU program and later started coaching for East.

Students at East say they are happy he is staying in Memphis, not because of his talent, but because of his character.

"He does a lot of good things to help people," one student said.

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