Penny Hardaway started five freshmen in the opening game of his second year at Memphis, at which point he became the first high-major coach in history to begin a season with an all-freshmen lineup.
That was four years ago.
Needless to say, a lot has changed since then — with both the sport of college basketball and Hardaway specifically. One-time transfer waivers have generally made being old more possible and young more challenging. It’s a different time. And yet, for reasons that are confusing, some coaches still haven’t properly adjusted to this reality.
But lots of them have — Hardaway among them. And that was on full display late Friday when his Tigers won 70-55 at Missouri while relying almost entirely on players 22-or-older.
Former McDonald’s All-American Jahvon Quinerly led Memphis with 18 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals. He’s 24 years old and the main reason why Memphis outscored Missouri 44-22 in the second half while notching the type of victory that should help this AAC program on Selection Sunday.
“I credit Memphis,” said Missouri coach Dennis Gates. “They had an unbelievable gameplan in that second half.”
The average age of the five players who scored the most for Memphis at Missouri is 22.8. Quinerly, again, is 24. Jordan Brown and Caleb Mills are 23. Jaykwon Walton and David Jones are 22. None of them began their college careers at Memphis. But their paths to the Bluff City and ages shouldn’t be mocked or ridiculed. They should instead be admired as an example of a coach learning on the job and impressively adjusting to the world changing around him.
Has it always been smooth sailing?
Evidence of that is that Hardaway is currently serving an NCAA-levied three-game suspension. It’s been bumpy at times. That acknowledged, Hardaway has guided Memphis to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances — plus two consecutive finishes in the top 25 at KenPom.com — and is seemingly now on his way to doing it again. His Tigers are 2-0 with a victory on the road over a projected NCAA Tournament team. That’s why they’re up to No. 21 in Saturday morning’s updated CBS Sports Top 25 And 1 daily college basketball rankings.