Monday, May 13, 2019

Prospects Assemble!

Posted By on Mon, May 13, 2019 at 9:54 AM

I'm going with James Wiseman as the incredible Hulk. Then D.J. Jeffries as Iron Man. We'll find a shield for Lester Quinones and call him Captain America (Captain Memphis?). And Malcolm Dandridge has the arms to play Thor. At least for now. At Penny Hardaway's current pace, the casting for the 2019-20 Memphis Tiger basketball team is hardly complete.

Hardaway's second recruiting class has become an Avengers movie. And if you have trouble focusing during an all-in Marvel battle at the multiplex, just wait for upcoming winter nights at FedExForum. If Hardaway's second class of freshmen lives up to its ranking and signing-day reactions across the country, Tiger basketball and the NIT won't again be mentioned in the same sentence.
click to enlarge Does this man own an eye patch? - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Does this man own an eye patch?

By now, we know a single Avenger can make a blockbuster. (Iron Man proved this three times.) Had Hardaway merely signed Wiseman — the top-ranked recruit in the country, a five-star center who starred for Hardaway at East High School — the Memphis program would find itself in new territory come November, one where teams well beyond the American Athletic Conference must now consider Penny power in the national recruiting race. But Wiseman now represents the centerpiece in a collection of NBA-bound talent, a group unlike any seen in these parts in over a decade. (And I'm not convinced any of John Calipari's classes topped this one.)

Let's review the new arrivals. In addition to Wiseman, Hardaway — as Nick Fury, minus the eye patch — has landed two other top-50 recruits (according to Rivals): Quinones (48) and Olive Branch star D.J. Jeffries (50). Guard Damion Baugh (ranked 84th by Rivals) and Dandridge (123rd) give the class no fewer than four four-star members to surround the five-star Wiseman. With two scholarships still on the table, Hardaway's pursuing a trio of five-stars: New York forward Precious Achiuwa (a pal of Quinones'), Alabama forward Trendon Watford, and Texas guard R.J. Hampton. Yet another blue chip, guard Boogie Ellis, was on the U of M campus last week, deciding if Memphis might be a better fit than his original destination: Duke. Consider that: A prize recruit is deciding if Memphis basketball is more attractive than Duke.

For the first time in a quarter century, the Tigers will open their season without a single starter from the previous campaign. (Hardaway himself was part of the 1992-93 starting five that departed together.) And it's a good thing those starters are gone, for there are still only 200 player minutes to distribute in a college basketball game. It's little wonder three members (all reserves) from last year's team have decided to transfer. There would not be room in next year's rotation for Antwann Jones, Victor Enoh, or David Wingett. When you boil things down — remember, two scholarships left — there's only room for two of three more five-star recruits on the Memphis radar.

Recruiting rankings go only so far. No banner will be hung at FedExForum for Hardaway-as-Fury landing a top-five class. Ultron (Houston?) is out there, standing between Memphis and its first AAC championship. For the ultimate goal — a national championship — to be attained, Hardaway and his recruits will have to topple Thanos in one form or another (Kentucky? please??). But here's the thing: You don't topple Kentucky without the star recruits. Thus the spring euphoria around the U of M program.

By the time you read this, Achiuwa (Hawkeye?) may be posing for pics in blue and gray with Quinones.  Perhaps Ellis will sweep back into town (Falcon?) to make Memphis the envy of Duke fans far and wide. However Hardaway's roster is completed, the 2019-20 season can't get here soon enough. Marvel fans had to wait an entire year between Infinity War and Endgame. It's only six months until this Tiger blockbuster premiers at FedExForum.

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