Penny Hardaway speaks with the media about the first days of practice. Hardaway signed high-profile recruits for this season and said he hopes to sign another for next season before early signing ends.

The University of Memphis men’s basketball coach Penny Hardaway’s team is 11-6 so far this season, yet they are 3-1 in conference play.

To be fair, what happens during Hardaway’s first year as head coach is minute compared to the expectations of recruiting for the seasons to come. He has already convinced five-star recruit James Wiseman to stay in Memphis instead of going to Kentucky. This shows high-ranking players want to play for Hardaway. 

Nevertheless, Hardaway is trying to get his seniors to be leaders to the freshmen both on the court and in the locker room. The disconnect between the upper and lower classmen has caused some issues, and it has displayed during games. After the Tigers narrowly defeated East Carolina, Haraway said he wants the team to communicate more and voiced his displeasure in the the seniors’ efforts.

“You’ve got to be one beat, one sound, out there, especially on the defensive end,” Hardaway said. “There’s a lot of guys hustling, don’t get me wrong, but they’re not talking. And when you don’t talk, it makes us slower. It makes two guys go to one man. It makes rotations way slower, and we’re not good enough defensively not to be communicating.”

Hardaway said he stresses the importance of communication with his team but mentioned the need for an echo of that message on the court, which is a responsibility that falls to the upperclassmen. 

“At some point, it’s going to be on the seniors,” Hardaway said. “(With) the coaches, it’s going to fall on deaf ears. It has to come from the seniors. The seniors have to want to do it first.”

Hardaway took all of the freshmen out from the starting rotation against Eastern Carolina, and the Tigers were trailing quickly with the seniors being the starters. Hardaway said he was extremely disappointed with the way they played but couldn’t pinpoint why they came out flat.

On top of the non-existent communication between the freshmen and the upperclassmen, the bigger issue seems to be the team’s lack of chemistry. Since the beginning of training camp, there has always been a competitive balance between the two groups, but it seems now the team is somewhat divided. 

Somehow Hardaway must get the guys he inherited from former Tigers’ coach Tubby Smith to be on one page, so they can be the vocal leaders he expects them to be. He has every right to single out any players who are not playing to the best of their potentials.

At the same time, Hardaway must find out what the underlying issues within the team are, so collectively, they can get better with communication and bridge the gap between the upper and lower classmen.

If this team is going to be successful and potentially make it to the tournament, it will be contingent upon how well this team gels together. There is no question as to whether they have a relationship off the court, as that is displayed via social media. Yet, on the court, where it matters most, there seems to be a disconnect within this team that hinders their success.

This is something Hardaway should work out now because it will show he is capable of coaching four- and five-star players with egos. It is worth mentioning that everyone on his current roster seems to be level-headed, but if the freshmen are not listening to the veterans, then that shows the mutual respect is not where it needs to be.

Yes, it is on the seniors to be vocal, but it is the responsibility of the head coach to ensure his freshmen are following suit. 

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