‘We did it, man’: Players rejoice and see what’s possible With Penny Hardaway as their Head Coach.

As the last 20 seconds ticked away at Comerica Center and Memphis guard Conor Glennon dribbled out the clock, the Tigers bench waited anxiously for the final buzzer to release them into chaos. 

When it did, sealing Memphis’ 77-64 NIT title win Sunday over Mississippi State into the record books, the Tigers rushed off the sideline and into feverish embraces.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn

As the elated players donned gray NIT championship shirts, cut down the nets and gathered for a trophy presentation, there was an underlying sense that although this was perhaps not exactly what they envisioned, it was still pretty damn sweet.

The championship put a bow on the end of a volatile season, a title that Memphis coach Penny Hardaway hopes is just the beginning of the program’s ascendance.

“We want to win championships and the NIT is just a start,” he said. “It shows that we turned the corner. We were dark in the beginning, in DeAndre Williams’ voice. And what he always says: We were really dark in the beginning and now see a lot of light at the end of the tunnel.”

It was easy to forget that once-dark period as scenes of celebration spread across social media: Hardaway drenched in water by his players, coaches dancing in the locker room, Boogie Ellis and Alex Lomax proudly wearing cut-down nets around their necks.

NIT championship box score: Memphis 77, Mississippi St. 64

There was no hiding their reactions, whether it be joy or relief or some other emotional cocktail.

Guard Lester Quinones relayed how the final buzzer nearly brought the Tigers to tears.

Memphis brings home first NIT championship since 2002

Memphis Tigers win 2021 NIT Championship
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – The Memphis Tigers bring home the first NIT Championship since 2002 after a 77-64 win over Mississippi State.

After the game, Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway said, “We had to do it for our city, we owed it to them after the way the season started off.”

Memphis got off to a fast start in the game, going on a 13-0 run. Then Mississippi State came back to tie it at 33 going into half.

In the second half, the Tigers shot 67% from the field and outscored the Bulldogs, 44-31.

It was a whirlwind of a season. The Tiger started 5-4. On December 21, Penny Hardaway received a five-year contract extension. On the same night, the Tigers lost to Tulsa. However, after that game, they finished the season winning 15 of 19. The team had two covid pauses and managed to take an Elite 8 team in Houston down to the wire twice.

After nearly missing the NCAA tournament, they won four-straight in the NIT to finish the season with a title. This is Penny Hardaway’s third season as head coach. Each year, his team has won 20 or more games. The Tigers finish the 2020-21 season with a 20-8 record.

Tigers win 2021 NIT championship, secure another 20-win season

Memphis guard Boogie Ellis (5) gets past Mississippi State guard Cameron Matthews (4) for a shot in the first half of an NCAA college basketball championship game in the NIT, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn

FRISCO, Texas – In a season unlike any other, with stops and starts, pandemic protocols and challenges seemingly at every turn, the Memphis Tigers ended it in one of the best ways possible – by bringing a trophy back to The Bluff City after an NIT championship.
The Tigers wrapped up the 2020-21 season with a 77-64 win over Mississippi State Sunday afternoon in Frisco, Texas, to secure their second National Invitation Tournament championship in program history, joining 2002.
Memphis ends the season with a 20-8 record and on a four-game winning streak with victories in 11 of its last 13 games overall. The only losses were to top-10-ranked Houston, who is still alive in the NCAA Tournament and currently in the Elite Eight, by a combined five points. Memphis’ average defeat in its eight losses this season was just 4.4 points, includ­ing seven by single digits and its last four by one possession.
The 20-win season is Memphis’ fourth in a row, including all three seasons under head coach Penny Hardaway, and the Tigers’ 18th of the 2000s. Only five of Memphis’ 16 head coaches since World War II have won 20 games in each of their first three seasons at the helm, now including Hardaway.
Boogie Ellis led the Tigers with 23 points against Mississippi State, and he hit 4-of-7 3-point tries. Ellis also had five assists. D.J. Jeffries added 15 points and blocked five shots, and DeAndre Williams had 12 points.
Lester Quinones grabbed 16 rebounds, including five on the offensive end, and he was named to the NIT All-Tournament Team.
Landers Nolley II was named the NIT’s Most Outstanding Player after averaging 16.5 points per outing in the tournament.
The NIT title could prove to be immensely beneficial to a young Tigers roster, which, according to KenPom, has an average experience level of 1.08 years. That is the youngest among teams that advanced this far into the postseason.
Along those lines, Memphis has averaged 25.8 wins in the season immediately following its five previous trips to the NIT in the 2000s. The Tigers roster amassed 58 games of postseason experience this year after entering the AAC Tournament earlier this month with a combined six games of postseason experience on its roster.


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn

Anfernee Deon “Penny” Hardaway (born July 18, 1971) is an American college basketball coach and former player who is the men’s basketball head coach for the Memphis Tigers of the American Athletic Conference (AAC). Hardaway played college basketball at Memphis and 14 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA), where he was a four-time NBA All-Star and a two-time All-NBA First Team member.

Hardaway grew up playing basketball in Memphis for Treadwell High School where he averaged 36.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 3.9 steals, and 2.8 blocks as a senior and was named Parade Magazine National High School player of the year. He finished his high school career with 3,039 points.

College career

At Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis), Hardaway had to sit out the 1990–91 season with the Memphis State Tigers due to being academically ineligible. While he was sitting out, Hardaway was robbed at gunpoint outside his cousin’s house and was shot in his foot by a stray bullet, putting his career in jeopardy. After he was inspired to do better in life and to accomplish more, he made the Dean’s List with a 3.4 grade point average as an education major.

In the summer of 1992 Hardaway was selected to the 1992 USA Basketball Developmental Team that scrimmaged daily against the 1992 Olympic Team. Hardaway was teammates with Chris Webber, Bobby Hurley, Jamal Mashburn, Rodney Rogers, Eric Montross, Grant Hill, and Allan Houston.

Hardaway returned for his junior season (1992–93) and bettered his numbers from the previous season. He averaged 22.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 6.4 apg, 2.4 spg, and 1.2 bpg. He accumulated two triple doubles. He was again named an All-American. He also was a finalist for the Naismith College Player of the Year and the John R. Wooden Award that are annually given the most outstanding player in college basketball.

Hardaway achieved a 3.4 cumulative GPA, but passed up his senior season to enter the 1993 NBA Draft. In 1994, Memphis State retired his jersey number, 25, Hardaway’s number while playing for the Tigers. He returned to the University of Memphis in May 2003 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in professional studies, ten years after leaving school early to turn pro.

Hardaway was named #5 on the list of top 100 modern college point guards by collegehoopsnet.com. Additionally, he was a leading vote getter on ESPN Conference USA Silver Anniversary Team.

NBA career

Orlando Magic (1993–1999)

Hardaway was selected by the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 1993 NBA draft (third pick overall), but was traded along with three future first-round picks to the Orlando Magic for the rights to first overall pick Chris Webber. The Magic’s intent was to draft Webber and pair him with Shaquille O’Neal until Hardaway – whose desire was to play alongside O’Neal – requested a second workout to show why he should be their pick. Two days before the draft, Hardaway participated in a pick-up basketball game with several Magic players and local talent and impressed the organization enough to make the draft day trade.

In 369 regular season games with the Magic, Hardaway averaged 19 points, 6.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game. In 45 playoff games he averaged 21.8 points, 6.5 assists, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.9 steals.

Hardaway landed in Phoenix via a sign-and-trade with Orlando before the start of 1999–2000 NBA season to team with fellow All-Star guard Jason Kidd, forming what the Suns labeled BackCourt 2000.[14] Injuries to Hardaway’s foot and Kidd’s ankle allowed them to play just 45 games together (33–12 with both in lineup). In 60 games Hardaway averaged 16.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.6 steals with a 42–18 record. The Suns finished with a 53–29 record and a 5th seed in the Western Conference Playoffs. The ankle injury to Kidd forced him to miss most of the first-round series against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. Hardaway stepped up and recorded a 17-point, 13-assist, 12-rebound triple-double in a crucial Game 3 win. The Suns disposed of the Spurs in four games. The Conference Semi-Finals pitted Hardaway against his former teammate Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers. The Suns fell short to the eventual champion Lakers in 5 games. Hardaway averaged 20.3 points, 5.7 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals, and 1 block per game during the nine playoff games.

In 236 regular season games with the Suns he averaged 12.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.3 steals. In 15 playoff games he averaged 17.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 1.8 steals.

New York Knicks (2004–2006)

Hardaway with the Knicks in 2005

Hardaway and Marbury helped lead the Knicks to the 2004 NBA Playoffs. In 42 regular-season games with the Knicks, Hardaway averaged 9.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1 steal. In 76 total games during the season he averaged 9.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.3 assists. In the playoffs the Knicks lost in the first round to the New Jersey Nets. Hardaway led the Knicks in scoring in two playoff games while averaging 16.5 points, 5.8 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.5 steals in the series.

In 83 games for the Knicks he averaged 8.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.9 assists.

Miami Heat (2007)

On August 9, 2007, Hardaway was signed by the Miami Heat reuniting him with former teammate Shaquille O’Neal. He wore jersey number 7, marking the first time in his pro career that he didn’t wear number 1. His best game of the season was on November 17, with 6–6 shooting for 16 points in a win on the road over New Jersey Nets, 91–87. 

Coaching career

In 2011, Hardaway took over for his friend Desmond Merriweather as a coach for his middle school alma mater, Lester Middle School, while Merriweather was undergoing treatment for colon cancer. With a goal to have each of his players graduate from college, Hardaway instituted a mandatory tutoring program. He coached the Lester Lions to the West Tennessee State title 58–57, finishing 28–3 for the season.

Memphis (2018–present)

Hardaway was hired as head coach by his alma mater, the Memphis Tigers, on March 19, 2018. Hardaway was hired to replace former head coach Tubby Smith. In his first year as head coach, Hardaway led the Tigers to the NIT. He also secured the number one recruiting class in the country with the commitments of number one rated high school player James Wiseman, DJ Jeffries, who decommitted from Kentucky; Boogie Ellis, who decommitted from Duke; and other heralded recruits. On May 17, 2019, Precious Achiuwa, a top-20 five-star recruit, signed with Memphis

Other pursuits

Hardaway made more than $120 million in his 16-season career. He owns a barbershop and beauty salon in downtown Memphis and a turf business based in Miami.

Hardaway is also known for his efforts to promote sports in Memphis. In 2010, he helped revitalize the Bluff City Classic, a summer basketball league that provides a high level of competition for men and women players from the college, professional, and elite high school ranks. Hardaway also provided funding to build the University of Memphis Sports Hall of Fame. In 2011, Hardaway announced plans for a permanent $20 million multi-sports facility named FastBreak Courts Sportsplex in Cordova. The sporting complex would support volleyball, cheerleading and wrestling, with seven basketball courts, a 2,000-seat arena, rehabilitation clinic and classrooms. It was expected to boost the Memphis-area economy by generating over $14.5 million in annual visitor spending and directly supporting 236 local jobs.

In 2012, Hardaway was announced to be part of an ownership group including Peyton Manning and Justin Timberlake that was to purchase a minority stake in the Memphis Grizzlies.

Appearances on regular season leader board

  • Top 10 Games Played: 1994, 1996, 1999
  • Top 10 Minutes Played: 1994, 1999
  • Top 10 Field Goals: 1996
  • Top 10 Free Throws: 1996
  • Top 10 Free Throws Attempted: 1996
  • Top 15 Points: 1995, 1996
  • Top 15 Assists: 1994, 1995, 1996
  • Top 10 Steals: 1994, 1996, 1999
  • Top 10 Player Efficiency Rating: 1996

Appearances on playoff leader board

  • Top 10 Minutes Per Game: 1994 (3rd), 1997 (4th), 1999, 2000, 2004
  • Top 5 Games Played: 1995
  • Top 10 Field Goals: 1995, 1996
  • Top 10 Free Throws Made: 1995, 1996
  • Top 10 3PT Field Goals: 1995
  • Top 10 Assists Per Game: 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2004
  • Top 10 Points: 1995 (5th), 1996
  • Top 10 Points Per Game: 1996, 1997 (2nd)
  • Top 5 Steals: 1995, 1997 (3rd), 1999 (5th), 2003 (4th)

Head coaching record


Statistics overview
Season Team Overall Conference Standing Postseason
Memphis Tigers (American Athletic Conference) (2018–present)
2018–19 Memphis 22–14 11–7 5th NIT Second Round
2019–20 Memphis 21–10 10–8 T–5th Postseason cancelled
2020–21 Memphis 20–8 11–4 3rd NIT Champion
Memphis: 63–32 (.663) 32–19 (.627)
Total: 63–32 (.663)
      National champion         Postseason invitational champion  
      Conference regular season champion         Conference regular season and conference tournament champion
      Division regular season champion       Division regular season and conference tournament champion
      Conference tournament champion