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Penny Hardaway is coaching middle school hoops and was involved in a 200-man, on-court near brawl

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Remember Penny Hardaway? Sure you do! The erstwhile Orlando Magic superstar turned Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks afterthought is now back in the city where he played his college ball: Memphis. In fact, not only is Hardaway in Memphis, he’s back in basketball, coaching a middle school team while filling in for ailing Memphis (Tenn.) Lester Middle School coach Desmond Merriweather, who is missing the 2012-13 season while battling cancer.

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Former NBA star Penny Hardaway coaches the Lester Middle School basketball team — Memphis Commercial Appeal

Former NBA star Penny Hardaway coaches the Lester Middle School basketball team — Memphis Commercial Appeal

By all accounts, Hardaway has jumped into the temporary head coaching position with full gusto, leading the Lester team to a third-straight city title. Yet, Hardaway’s passion has also added to hype and excitement ... occasionally to a dangerous degree. That was clear recently during a game in which his staff nearly got into an all-out, on-court brawl with the coaches and fans of an opponent.

As reported by the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Hardway’s Lester squad was facing off against Memphis (Tenn.) Cypress Middle School when a particularly hard foul by a Cypress player infuriated one of Hardaway’s assistants. The Lester coach began yelling at the Cypress bench, and the Cypress coaching staff began to walk toward midcourt, daring the Lester coach to square up.

Before anyone realized what was happening, the entire gym was near a full-out brawl. Both teams lined up behind their coaches and some 200 fans ran onto the court to take their sides in the melee.

Luckily, police in the gym were able to intervene before any punches were thrown, but the incident was scary enough to encourage police to call off the rest of the game, ending the contest early and giving Lester a 59-47 victory.

Keep in mind that this was a middle school game, not college or even high school competition. Still, as Hardaway told the Commercial Appeal, the middle schools in Memphis have earned just as big a spotlight as their affiliated high schools.

"I wasn't aware of the middle school scene before," Hardaway said, leaning on a locker room wall for the conversation, as it was too loud in the gym to hear. "It's as big as high schools. You get packed crowds, very intense crowds."

Intense enough to draw Penny Hardaway into a near brawl. One wonders what Lil’ Penny would think about that.

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