Penny Hardaway has never been one to shy away from the big names. Neither as a player nor a coach.
The former NBA All-Star stood toe-to-toe with Michael Jordan and many other greats during his time on the floor. Off the court, the Memphis men's basketball coach has never hesitated to pursue the sport's brightest young stars, such as James Wiseman, Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates.
Why should Bronny James be any different? A courtship that began weeks ago when Hardaway showed up to several of James' games at Peach Jam had new life breathed into it Thursday. That's when Memphis reportedly became the most recent program to express interest in the Class of 2023's 49th-ranked recruit.
James, the eldest son of NBA superstar LeBron James, is a 6-foot-3 point guard and has a range of options in front of him. Oregon is considered by some to be one of the favorites,although LeBron seemed to deflate such reports on social media Tuesday. Southern California and Ohio State are also apparently in the mix. Could James bypass college altogether, opting instead to take the G League Ignite route or some other professional avenue? That seems less likely, as ESPN's Paul Biancardi recently reported.
So, does Hardaway have a legitimate shot at luring James to Memphis? Of course he does, even though James doesn't yet have an offer from the Tigers and despite their absence from BetOnline's list of schools with the top odds to land the prospect.
Here are three reasons why.
Sure, Hardaway has established quite the track record where development is concerned. He helped Wiseman at East High and Memphis. Precious Achiuwa was a first-round pick after a season under Hardaway. Same for Duren and Josh Minott. Lester Quiñones signed a two-way deal this offseason following three campaigns at Memphis. Other NBA players and NBA hopefuls have sought out Hardaway's tutelage in recent years, including Quentin Grimes and R.J. Hampton.
But if James' father has any say in where his son plays, his opinion of Hardaway could provide some insight. LeBron has made his high esteem for Hardaway clear on multiple occasions.
"Penny was one of my favorite players growing up," LeBron said in 2019 after a game against the Memphis Grizzlies. "I kind of idolized Michael Jordan, but I wanted to be like Penny."
In an Instagram post in 2020, LeBron doubled down on his affinity for Hardaway.
"MY 2ND FAVORITE PLAYER OF ALL-TIME MAN! LITERALLY COULD WATCH HIM PLAY EVERY NIGHT!!" he posted under a reel featuring some of Hardaway's most impressive highlights.
Only Jordan is a higher profile Nike-sponsored basketball player than Hardaway and LeBron.
Also, part of the reason why more schools aren't being connected to James' recruitment is because it's believed the only programs he will consider are those with Nike deals. Those programs include Oregon, Ohio State, Michigan (whose coach, Juwan Howard, played alongside LeBron with the Miami Heat) and, you guessed it, Memphis.
Those intersecting tangents make the Tigers' case for James even stronger.
If familiarity holds any water at all for James, Memphis could wind up being the place for him.
That's because Hardaway's son, Ashton, will team up with James at Sierra Canyon (Calif.) this season. Both are seniors and the younger Hardaway is a three-star forward with interest from the Tigers.
If James and Hardaway hit it off and form a formidable combination, the prospect of keeping the band together at the next level could prove an attractive proposition.
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @munzly.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis basketball could land Bronny James. Here are three reasons why