Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway is known to many as a Memphis Tigers legend and a four-time NBA All-Star. His resume precedes him. Before his accolades playing basketball at Memphis State University and professionally, Hardaway was a highly recruited player from Treadwell High School.
Across town in South Memphis at Hamilton High, Marcus “Doc” Holliday, a football recruit and now sports director at the ABC affiliate Local Memphis/WATN, decided to stay home and commit to Memphis, despite not following the football program. Holliday grew up a huge fan of the Tigers basketball team and decided to go there for that reason. It was this decision that led to a brotherhood with Hardaway that spans for more than two decades.
“Penny and I first met at South Hall, which was strictly the athletic dorm back then,” Holliday said. “He, of course, was the basketball team’s big recruit, and I was the football team’s big recruit. I watched Penny play in high school and was just as excited as everyone else that he decided to stay home and go to Memphis.”
The two became close, especially during the winter break, when the dorm halls would close and everyone would go home for the winter except the basketball team because they were still in season. Holliday spent much time hanging out in Hardaway’s and former Tiger and NBA player David Vaughn’s room.
“I would go eat with them, go to parties with them and just hang out with them,” Holliday said. “Penny was always just a cool dude despite being this mega superstar back then.”
In their downtime, Holliday and Hardaway would play basketball at the Elma Roane Fieldhouse. Players from both the football and basketball teams would meet at the courts and shoot hoops. With so many competitive guys on the floor, Holliday said this would lead to a lot of bickering.
“Penny and the basketball players really didn’t like when we, the football players, would show up because we played extremely physical,” Holliday said. “It would lead to some interesting arguments, but there was really nothing the basketball team could do because we were going to play, or no one was going to play.”
Holliday and Hardaway’s brotherhood continued to grow after they found they were born two days apart — Holliday on July 16 and Hardaway on July 18. Hardaway put a birthday card under the door for Holliday, and Holliday returned the favor two days later.
Holliday recalled one gift he received from Hardaway after Hardaway returned from playing on a college team that famously scrimmaged the 1992 United States Men’s Olympic team, featuring NBA Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Ervin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird.
“When Penny came back from playing on that college team that beat the first Dream Team, he gave me one of his wristbands he wore during that scrimmage, and I actually wore it the entire season,” Holliday said. “We just clicked because we came from similar backgrounds, both from Memphis, both almost born on the same day.”
Time would go on, and Hardaway continued to become a legend at Memphis; however, Holliday did not see him as that. They were friends. They treated each other like brothers, had fun and argued, but at the end of the day they had nothing but love for each other.
Even after Hardaway went on to become the star he is today, Holliday said his friend never changed and is the same guy he met in South Hall.
“Penny is really the same type of person I’ve always known,” Holliday said. “He’s never let his ego get out of control. He’s always acted as though he wasn’t Penny Hardaway, meaning he’s just a regular dude who has been blessed by God, and he still acts that way.”
Two decades later, Hardaway is the new head coach of the Memphis Tigers men’s basketball program. Holliday saw his friend grow as a player and person to become a pillar of the community. Now he says Tiger fans should be excited because Hardaway is a great coach.
“He coaches the way he played, always thinking and always able to see 100 moves ahead of the opponent,” Holliday said. “He used to lead some practices when he was playing under Coach (Larry) Finch, and he had a lot of leeway in calling plays and making tough decisions as a player at Memphis and in Orlando.”
Holliday said he thinks the Tigers will be a team that plays hard and will compete under Hardaway, but he cautions this season will not be a cakewalk.
“It won’t be easy, but Penny doesn’t expect it to be easy,” Holliday said. “The Tigers won’t quit on him, and they’ll play hard for him because they look up to him, their parents look up to him, and they will want to impress him and want him to succeed because he is a legend.”
Nevertheless, Holliday said he is excited for his college brother and is very confident Hardaway will excel in this position.
“I have full faith and confidence Penny will succeed as Memphis Tigers head coach,” Holliday said. “He’s already succeeded because people are excited about the program again. He will get high-level recruits to come play for him, and we all should expect regular dances in the NCAA Tournament. Hiring Penny is not only a good look for the university, but it’s a good look for the City of Memphis.”