Now that the dust has settled after a historic college basketball season, programs across the country have begun turning their attention to what will be a critical offseason. With player movement at an all-time high, we truly are entering into a new era of college basketball where coaches will have no choice but to adapt or get left behind.
It will be no different for Penny Hardaway and the Memphis Tigers. Just weeks after winning the second NIT championship in school history, Memphis had lost Boogie Ellis, D.J. Jeffries, Damion Baugh and Jordan Nesbit all to the transfer portal. Additionally, reigning American Athletic Conference freshman of year Moussa Cisse declared for the NBA draft. Cisse did not hire an agent, however, leaving the door open for a possible return.
Nevertheless, for a team that was looking ahead to next season with increased expectations after the run they went on in the second half, how Hardaway retools the roster will be pivotal. Thus far, he has gotten off to a decent start.
The first transfer came from former Hampton star Davion Warren, a 6’6” guard who led the entire Big South Conference in scoring this past season with 21 points per game while also averaging over two steals per. Warren fits the mold of the guards Hardaway likes to look for: long and athletic, a rabid defender and an obviously capable scorer. Warren went for his career-high 34 points this season against USC Upstate and finished 13th in scoring nationally. His upside as a true two-way player must be tantalizing for Hardaway and his staff.
The next transfer addition, former Miami guard Earl Timberlake, was hyped as a potential first-round draft pick entering his freshman season but only played in seven games in 2020 due to shoulder and ankle injuries. Another 6’6” big guard, Timberlake again fits the apparent mold that Hardaway seems to be looking for: a strong, versatile guard who can do a little bit of everything on the floor. The recurring theme here, however, is defense. Timberlake offers defensive flexibility that simply was not always there last year. NBA superstar Kevin Durant even praised the move on his Twitter. Not the worst endorsement to have.
A year ago, Memphis struck gold with the additions of Landers Nolley and Deandre Williams via transfer. Nolley took home most outstanding player honors for the NIT and Williams emerged as a veteran leader for young team that desperately needed it. This time around, Hardaway is hoping his additions can have a similar effect. To go along with the two incoming transfers, Memphis (currently) also has three incoming freshmen.
Josh Minott, a four-star small forward from Boca Raton, Florida, headlines the incoming crop of recruits. Minott, who chose Memphis over Baylor, averaged 23 ppg along with 8 reb and was named Palm Beach County player of the year for class 5A-1A by the Sun Sentinel as a senior. Expect Minott to compete for minutes on the wing almost immediately.
John Camden and Sam Ayomide Onu round out the current class, but their situation is rather unique. Ayomide Onu, a 6’11 center from Nigeria, moved in with Camden’s family while the two were in high school. While Memphis recruited the two separately, they ultimately decided together this is where they wanted to be. Ayomide Onu chose the Tigers over Kansas, while Camden, a 6’7 wing who has drawn comparisons to Miami Heat star Tyler Herro, had offers from Florida and Indiana before deciding on Memphis. The two describe themselves as brothers and that dynamic will surely endear them with Tiger fans the moment they arrive at campus.
At the time of this writing, Memphis currently has two roster spots open. While it remains unclear how Hardaway plans to fill these spots, current speculation points to another set of brothers putting on the blue and gray: Chandler and Jonathon Lawson. A pair of uber-talented brothers from the Memphis area, the Lawson brothers would be a massive get for the Tigers. Bringing them in along with the other newcomers would have Memphis looking quite formidable on paper.
No matter who fills the last two roster spots, Penny Hardaway and his staff will have their hands full once again getting everyone to buy in to what they are building. While the run to the NIT championship was a good start, it will be pivotal this team is on the same page at the start of next season if they want to live up to their ceiling. Assimilating the new players into that culture they are hoping to create will be step one.