PJ Haggerty, Memphis basketball's transfer portal prize, already has sights set on Final Four

PJ Haggerty – fresh off publicly announcing his decision to transfer to Memphis basketball – was wrapping up a 40-minute phone interview.

But not before addressing Tigers fans and offering a glimpse into the mindset of the dynamic 6-foot-3 transfer guard.

“I heard the Final Four (next year) will be in San Antonio,” the born-and-raised Texan told The Commercial Appeal. “Just want to let y’all know, we plan on being there. That’s all I got to say.”

The prospect of winning at that level is one of the biggest reasons Haggerty picked Memphis. A hard-nosed, high-energy handful, he was one of the most coveted players in the transfer portal, ranking 15th in the country with a 21.2 points per game average. Following that outstanding season at Tulsa, Haggerty was named the Kyle Macy National Freshman of the Year – an honor also claimed by the likes of Duke’s Kyle Filipowski, as well as former Oklahoma State star Cade Cunningham and former Georgia phenom Anthony Edwards.

But Haggerty admits he is hungry for more. More exposure. More professional development. But, most importantly, more victories. With Haggerty leading the way, Tulsa went from five wins the season before he arrived to 16 last season.

“I can get better in every aspect of my game,” he said. “But, also, I can just win more. We left a couple games out there last year. I'll do anything just to win. So, coming into this year with a different team, being able to win and being able to win at the highest level is very important to me.”

What separates PJ Haggerty

Haggerty makes it easy for even the most casual observer to see how productive he is.

Apart from the scoring (10 games at Tulsa with 25 points or more, and failing to crack double-digits just once in 31 games), Haggerty also averaged 5.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists a game. Of Tulsa's 779 field goals last season, he made or assisted on 40.8% of them. He ranked second in the nation in free throw attempts and third in made free throws, finishing with a 76.7% free throw percentage. In AAC play, Haggerty collected fewer than five rebounds just twice (four at FAU, three at Temple).

During Haggerty's visit, Hardaway showed him a video package the Tigers put together of his highlights at Tulsa. Haggerty said it included some clips of Memphis film with Hardaway explaining how the young guard would fit. He said Hardaway compared aspects of his game to the likes of Tyrese Haliburton, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

As much as Haggerty brings to the table, his smarts and passion are what separate him from the rest, according to his father, Patrick.

“He’s just going to think the game through. He’s smart and super, super competitive,” the elder Haggerty said. "“You might say it’s a football mentality, but what PJ does is he comes at you and he keeps coming. If you’re 5-11 or 6-8, he’s coming right at you. None of that playing around.”

Part of that comes from playing against players much older than Haggerty, his father said. When Haggerty was in the second grade, he was playing against fifth- and sixth-graders. When he was 11 years old, he was playing against 15-year-olds. All of which helped him develop an unflinching disposition.

“I want to be the attacker, just to show you I’m here,” Haggerty said. “When it’s on the court, it’s all business. It ain’t no games. I play hard.”

What Penny Hardaway, Memphis can do for PJ Haggerty

Tigers coach Penny Hardaway has proven adept at elevating individual players' games.

Kendric Davis took his game to another level after transferring to Memphis. David Jones became a bona fide star under Hardaway.

That, along with the credibility Hardaway brings to the table as a former NBA superstar, factored into Haggerty's decision. But, also, the prospect of being surrounded by more talent made Memphis an attractive destination.

“Penny is going to put him in a place to succeed,” said Edwin Egans, who was Haggerty’s coach at Crosby (Texas) High School. “PJ is going to score at a rapid pace. But I also think you’re going to see better assist numbers. With better players around him, you’re going to see him do more and be a little more creative.

“Because he has a very, very good basketball IQ, which might supersede his God-given talent.”

Making adjustments

Haggerty acknowledges he is not a finished product. He has work to do, mostly on the defensive end.

PJ HAGGERTY: What he brings to Memphis basketball for coach Penny Hardaway

Hardaway established a high standard on defense at Memphis, which was routinely ranked among the leaders in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Tigers finished No. 1 in the country in that category in 2020-21. But last season they took a big step backward defensively, and Hardaway wants to fix that.

“They talked about how they play defense, how they like to speed teams up. I’m pretty good at getting steals,” said Haggerty, who was tied for fourth in the AAC with 1.9 per game. “I’m actually a pretty good defender, but I can improve. So, it’s just something I’ve got to pick up and get better at.”

Reach sports writer Jason Munz at or follow him @munzly on X, the social media app formerly known as Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis basketball's PJ Haggerty already has sights set on Final Four