While most athletes greatly rep the name on the front of their jersey, Jayden Hardaway goes even harder for the name on the back of his. The senior guard works tirelessly to fill the shoes of his coach and father, Penny Hardaway.
Many people know Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway as a Memphis basketball legend. They know him as the man who was drafted third in the first round of the 1993 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic, an Olympic Gold medalist, and as the head coach of his alma mater, the University of Memphis-- but for his son Jayden the first thing he knew him as was dad.
Growing up as a child, Jayden would travel with his dad while he was still in the league and watched him play. Penny began coaching his son when Jayden was just 7-years-old. Unlike most father and son duos, these two get to continue building their relationship and seeing their passion play out on a bigger stage standing side by side with one another.
A week after Jayden's season ended at IMG Academy in 2018, he received a call from his dad, who informed him that he would be taking the head coaching position at the University of Memphis.
"He wanted to make the basketball program something special, and he really wanted me to be a part of that," said Jayden, "Compared to the other offers I was getting at the time, it was a no-brainer."
Jayden did not have to think twice about bringing his talents to Memphis and coming to play for his dad because this would not be the first time the two would link up to try and make a basketball program something special here in the grind city.
In 2016 Jayden moved to the M to play for his dad during his senior year of high school at East Memphis. In the 2016-2017 season, they won the TSSAA Class AAA State Championship.
Since accomplishing significant milestones together, they have created a healthy relationship on and off the court. When they are not connecting through hoops, they are bonding through laughter. "We both have a great sense of humor, so I think that's one thing we kind of connect on," Jayden said.
They also like to spend their time hanging out, watching sports, and traveling. "On the court, we have a good relationship too because both of us are very focused individuals," said the senior guard, "We are all about hard work."
Attending a D1 school with talented athletes and a die-hard fan base like those at the U of M, where they bleed blue and gray, can come with many eyes watching and even more opinions floating around. It can be challenging for many student-athletes, but it also can be even harder for someone who has to hear the words "coach's son" whenever they do something right or make a mistake.
Jayden learned at an early age that he would have to tune out the outside noise and focus on the task at hand. "I grew up never really concerned about what other people have to say about me," said Hardaway.
Some fans and media outlets have questioned if Jayden deserves to play at Memphis since day one. "I don't really care about other people thinking I'm only here because my dad is here, which isn't the case," Jayden said. "Everybody in our organization knows that I deserve to be here; all the fans know by now that I deserve to be on the court."
Knowing the great deal of work he has put in over the years allows him to tune out the negative comments from naysayers. As he has been working hard to prove himself and his talent, his dad has been next to him every step of the way.
"He helps push me every day to be the best I can be, and I just sit there, and I try to take in as much information as I can," he said.
While he appreciates it now, Jayden was not always a fan of his father's hard teaching. Nonetheless, now that he is older, he understands it's all about trusting the process, and he appreciates his dad's efforts.
This season, Jayden hopes to continue to grow his confidence in his mental state with the sport. "Skill-wise, I've always felt like I could match up with the best of them, but mentally I used to always get frustrated with myself and get down on myself, but at this level, you can't afford to do that."
He has not decided whether this will be his last year playing at the university or if he will take his Covid year provided by the NCAA, but he does know right now he just wants to focus on having a good season and helping his team make it back to the big dance.
"Me and my dad usually just focus on the present, and we just feel like if we pour all of our energy into making the best out of what we have now, it will pay off in the future," he said.
After college, he wants to play professional basketball for as long as possible. Once he decides to put the ball down as a player, he would like to pursue a career in either the sport's business or player development side. Hardaway always wants to be part of the basketball world.
In order to make his dreams come true, Jayden has to listen to the piece of advice his father once gave him-- "If you want to be great in something, you have to put in the extra work."
Jayden said, "It's all the unrequired hours behind closed doors that no one ever sees that helps you be successful."
No matter what happens in the future, the game plan is to always work hard. Jayden knows that his dad will be there every step to motivate him and give him the knowledge and tools he needs to succeed.