Penny Hardaway has a long way to go to prove his coaching prowess next to John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski.
But on the recruiting trail, the second-year Memphis coach is already standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the titans of college basketball.
Hardaway secured another five-star recruit on Friday, landing a commitment from Florida power forward Precious Achiuwa. Achiuwa is Rivals’ 17th-ranked prospect in the class of 2019 and visited blue bloods North Carolina and Kansas before ultimately deciding to play for Hardaway at Memphis.
Duke, Kentucky watch out (you too UNC, KU)
It’s a refrain that coaches at college basketball’s traditional powerhouses should brace themselves for.
Achiuwa arrives to a class that was already ranked No.1 in the nation, surpassing those of No. 2 Kentucky and No. 4 Duke, the two programs that have dominated recruiting circles for a decade.
Memphis’ loaded 2019 class
He joins a Tigers class that already includes the nation’s top-ranked prospect James Wiseman, a 7-foot center from Memphis. Wiseman and Achiuwa are joined by five four-star recruits to complete a bonafide powerhouse of a freshman class next season.
Prior to joining the Tigers, Hardaway coached on the prep scene in Memphis and has leveraged his ties there to attract top-rated local talent that includes Wiseman, four-star guard Damion Baugh and four-star center Malcolm Dandridge.
But he’s not just picking up the local talent. He’s poaching players with prior connections to the blue bloods.
Players leaving powers for Memphis
In November, four-star point guard Boogie Eliis committed to Duke as part of another elite recruiting class in Durham. When Tre Jones opted to return to school rather than declare for the NBA draft, Ellis decommitted earlier in May. After being granted a release from Duke, Ellis joined Hardaway in Memphis.
Kentucky has a similar story. Four-star guard D.J. Jeffries committed to the Wildcats in 2018. But when Hardaway —whom he played for on the AAU circuit — took the Memphis job, Jeffries had a change of heart and decommitted from John Calipari’s class.
He too will be a Tiger.
Hardaway’s apparent ability to connect with young basketball players combined with his iconic stint as an electric NBA point guard alongside Shaquille O’Neal in Orlando have proven to be a powerful draw for talent.
Will talent translate on the court?
As March struggles in recent years from Kentucky and Duke have demonstrated, strong recruiting classes don’t necessarily make championship contenders.
But they are good starts. What Hardaway does with his stellar class in his second season at Memphis will be one of college basketball’s stories to watch next season.
In short time, he’s proven he can shake up the recruiting scene. Can he and his star class of freshmen make it count on the court?
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