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Memphis Adds Two More Guards in Transfer Portal

The offseason is the greatest time of year for Memphis Tiger basketball under Penny Hardaway, and that idea was reaffirmed Monday. In the span of two hours, Hardaway added two point guards in Texas transfer Tyrese Hunter and George Mason transfer Baraka Okojie. 

The first commit of the day, Tyrese Hunter, is arguably the best transfer Hardaway has landed in this cycle, and creates one of the best backcourts in the country on paper, with him and Tulsa transfer PJ Haggerty.  

Hunter is an incoming senior 6’0 guard who has spent his last two years at Texas. Generally regarded for his athleticism and finishing ability around the rim, Hunter is an explosive athlete who plays much bigger than his small frame would suggest. He has a respectable jump shot as well, so he can score on all three levels, but is most effective around the basket.  

Hunter has played a lot of minutes and heavily contributed to three NCAA tournament teams in his career, including two that made the second weekend, something Memphis has not done since 2009. On the 2022-23 Elite Eight Texas team, he averaged 10.3 points, 2.5 assists, and 3.0 rebounds on 39.4% shooting from the field and 33.7% shooting from 3. In his 2023-24 campaign, his efficiency and playmaking improved, as he averaged 11.1 points, 4.1 assists, and 2.9 rebounds on 45.2% shooting from the field and 34.3% shooting from three. 

If Hunter’s name sounds familiar to Tigers’ fans, he began his career at Iowa St, and was the second leading scorer on the team that handed the Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren Memphis team their first loss of the season, a 78-59 drubbing in Brooklyn. As a freshman, he was an integral part of that sweet 16 team at Iowa St, then transferred to Texas after that year. 

What will determine the success of this pairing with him and Haggerty will be his three-point shooting, as both are slashers who like to operate around the rim. Hunter has improved from three every single season in college, and if he can shoot around 35%, the spacing on this team will be what is needed for two guards with their offensive preferences. Both will be flanked by Colby Rogers, one of the best shooters in the country last season, and potentially David Jones, another player that can shoot the cover off the ball. This backcourt pairing will be lethal if Memphis can shoot in a way that leads to great offensive spacing, as both Haggerty and Hunter can kill you with their elite finishing packages, or with their great playmaking to find the open man if the defense collapses on them.  

The second commit of the night will be more of a key depth piece, likely slotting in at the backup point guard position. Baraka Okojie is an incoming 6’3 sophomore George Mason transfer, who was actually a reclassified freshman last season.  

Okojie averaged 8.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.4 steals per game at George Mason, playing 24 minutes a game. He started the season as a key reserve off the bench, but finished it as a heavily relied upon starter, playing 30 minutes or more in each of George Mason’s last five games of the season.  

Okojie is an elite defender and athlete, boasting one of the best steal percentages in Division I last season. Much like Haggerty and Hunter, Okojie is an incredible finisher around the rim, but compared to the two, is much more of a raw offensive talent. Okojie is not a great shooter, with a 25.6% clip from three in his one and only year in college. The envisioned role for him next season is comparable to the one of early season Jayhlon Young, a defensive stalwart and energizer off the bench, who will not be asked to do a lot on offense. 

The value of the Okojie commitment is his age and room for growth. He has three years of eligibility left, something that is worth its weight in gold with transfers in hopes to foster roster continuity. Additionally, the effectiveness he had last season as a freshman, even with how raw his game is, bodes well for his development. If Hardaway and his staff are able to keep him for three years and properly develop him, he could become one of the best players in the AAC later in his career. 

Hardaway’s transfer portal class now sits at five players, and the picture of the team is becoming much clearer. Nicholas Jourdain, last season’s starting four is set to return, and will be joined by Hunter, Okojie, Illinois big man Dain Dainja, Tulsa guard PJ Haggerty, and Wichita St sharpshooter Colby Rogers. Incoming freshman guard Jarred Harris will also be on the team. 

Next for Hardaway, there are two clear focuses of the offseason: convince David Jones to forgo the NBA draft and return to college and shore up the front court. Jones has entered the draft, and has until May 29th to make a decision on whether he would like to return to college or keep his name in the draft. Then this week, top-10 incoming freshman center Jayden Quaintance is reportedly coming in for a visit over the weekend, and smoke has formed around a potential return for former Tiger center Moussa Cisse. Expect an already busy week to get busier, as names not even known right now could surprisingly commit, much like Tyrese Hunter did. 

Year in and year out, one thing will never change with Penny Hardaway: he will always assemble a talented roster with all the pieces to succeed. However, year in and year out, how well those pieces come together and mesh will determine how the season goes.  

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