The college basketball offseason is returning to a sense of normalcy after a year filled with recruiting over Zoom calls and workouts conducted sparingly, with plenty of social distance. And Memphis coach Penny Hardaway has plenty on his plate at the moment.
Last week he hosted several elite high school prospects on campus for the first time since the pandemic began. He has several vacancies on his staff to fill, including potentially two assistant coaching positions. He also needs to finalize the Tigers’ roster, which still has one or two available scholarships.
Hardaway discussed all of this Monday with The Commercial Appeal as he participated in the annual AutoZone Liberty Bowl charity golf tournament for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital at TPC Southwind. Most notably, it appears Memphis is done mining the transfer portal this offseason.
“I think we’re set on transfers, but there could be some situations that happen,” Hardaway said. “Maybe guys re-classing, things of that nature, so we’ll see.”
Memphis already added transfers Earl Timberlake from Miami and Chandler Lawson from Oregon after the NCAA instituted its new one-time transfer waiver. The deadline to add a transfer who wouldn’t have to sit out the 2021-22 season is July 1.
A potential reclassification target could be 2022 recruit Jai Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Raleigh, North Carolina, who previously did not rule out moving up to the 2021 class. He recently took an official visit to Memphis.
The Tigers could be in the market for another big man with the impending departure of center Moussa Cisse, who declared for the NBA Draft without hiring an agent to retain his eligibility and also entered the transfer portal.
Cisse is still listed on the online roster and Hardaway said the door is still open for the reigning AAC Freshman of the Year to come back if he wants, however unlikely that scenario may be.
“I thought Moussa’s decision was done, but you never know because he still has a decision to make and the scholarship is still there,” Hardaway said. “I think he has a right to figure out what he wants to do. Maybe he thought he was going to make the NBA. Even though he went into the transfer portal, he got invited to the combine. So see how that goes and go on from there.”
Hardaway must fill multiple staff vacancies
It’s Hardaway’s staff that is in flux, more so than his roster. Since the season ended, former assistant Tony Madlock left to become the new coach at South Carolina State. Hardaway is also looking for a new strength and conditioning coach and a video coordinator.
In addition, it appears assistant coach Jermaine Johnson’s future with the program is also uncertain. Hardaway acknowledged he may be looking for two assistant coaches in the coming weeks and months.
“JJ was on a one-year deal,” Hardaway said of Johnson. “He’s still here now, and I’m trying to decide on what I want to do.”
Hardaway added that he’s focused on first finalizing a hire for Madlock’s replacement, as well as a replacement for former strength and conditioning coach Darby Rich, in the next few weeks before the NCAA’s July recruiting period begins. He is scheduled to meet with athletic director Laird Veatch and university president M. David Rudd soon about his staff decisions.
Hardaway hired Johnson in November to replace Mike Miller right before the season began. Johnson, a Memphis native who was previously the head coach at Melrose High School, had been an assistant at Troy, UT Martin and Georgia Southern before joining the Tigers.
“JJ is still here until I make a decision,” Hardaway said.
How healthy is Earl Timberlake?
The Tigers’ new players arrived on campus last week, Hardaway added. Earl Timberlake and Chandler Lawson were joined by a four-member freshman class featuring local addition Johnathan Lawson and forwards Josh Minott and John Camden, and center Sam Onu.
Timberlake, however, is still rehabbing from a shoulder injury he suffered last season at Miami and is not yet a full participant in the team’s workouts. Timberlake, who is projected by ESPN to be a first-round pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, only played in seven games as a freshman with the Hurricanes.
“Shoulder is actually doing much better, but still more rehab,” Hardaway said. “I think he got into a tough situation with his shoulder at Miami where he kept trying to play through the pain and eventually couldn’t do it anymore and found out that it was worse than it was and it was kind of like, ‘Dang.’ It took away his confidence. And now, he’s rehabbing well.”
You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto