Penny Hardaway and the Memphis Tigers basketball team Head Coach kicked off practice this week after a historically successful off-season as Hardaway reeled in the nation’s top ranked recruiting class to go along with his talented cast of returning players.

With a little over a month to go until the official start of the regular season, competition between players for starting roles will be fierce. 

“If five freshmen earn those spots, I wouldn’t have a problem with it,” Hardaway said in a press conference last Monday. “It’s just who is going to be the best at that position for us to win. It’s not favoritism. They’re going to battle it out in practice and if it’s five freshmen, I don’t have a problem with that.”  

Since his arrival as head coach last year, Hardaway has preached a desire to strengthen the non-conference schedule. As a player, some of his fondest memories from his time as a Tiger were the battles he did against ranked opponents, such as Louisville, Georgetown and Cincinnati.

While the 2018 non-conference schedule did feature top-25 teams in LSU and Tennessee and eventual national runner up Texas Tech a year ago, Memphis ended up losing all those games. This time around, with a roster as talented as this one, the pressure will be on to deliver in those big-time moments. There will be no time to waste as they will travel to Portland to take on Oregon in the third game of the year. 

“I wanted to have a schedule that was going to test us early,” Hardaway said. “I think that’s something that I’ve always done. When I was in high school, the schedule that I tried to choose was to see where our guys were to really get them prepared for when our conference starts. That is going to be a big test for us on the road, at Oregon, and we’ll be up for the challenge.”  

In addition to facing a tough Ducks team on the road, the Tigers will also take a trip up to Knoxville for a date with the Vols on Dec. 14 in what is sure to be one of the more intense contests of the entire year. Ole Miss will pay FedExForum a visit first on Nov. 23, and the Georgia Bulldogs will be in Memphis just after the calendar turns to 2020 on Jan. 4. Memphis will also take on NC State in a neutral court setting at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on Nov. 28.  

An obvious reason why Tigers fans feel so confident about their chances against those quality opponents is due to the influx of high-caliber talent over the summer. However, for returning players like Tyler Harris, this year will be just as much about stepping up into leadership roles as it is about anything else on the court. Harris knows that his leadership will be key to his team’s success.  

“I feel like my role this year is going to be more vocal,” Harris said. “I got to lead the younger guys and get out there and of course do my thing as well.” 

Memphis kicks off its 2019 regular season with back-to-back home tilts against South Carolina State on Nov. 5 and UIC on Nov. 8. Memphis Madness is also coming up next Thursday night at 7 p.m.

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