BOZICH | College basketball's summer of Calipari vs. Penny vs. Tubby
By Rick Bozich
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Tubby Smith won one national championship in 10 seasons at Kentucky. His two seasons at Georgia were as good as Georgia basketball can be. The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame should pick up the phone and call Smith as soon as they finish reading this column.
John Calipari has also won a national championship in nine seasons at Kentucky. He won big at Massachusetts and bigger at Memphis. Calipari’s Hall of Fame call came three years ago.
Penny Hardaway has not won a national championship — as a coach or as a player.
The Hall of Fame has no reason to place Hardaway’s name on speed dial -- unless they adored his Nike commercials.
Penny Hardaway, the coach, has not won a college basketball game.
But this is where we are in college basketball today:
Hardaway is the Flavor of the Summer in college basketball, the subject of adoring profiles and endless optimism. He is the coach whose call will be taken by top recruits.
Hardaway has created a hurricane of hype with a NBA-infused staff that is reportedly stirring love from enough 4- and 5-star prospects that Memphis (a program with one vacated, Calipari-coached Final Four appearance in 33 years) has positioned itself to assemble one of the nation’s best classes.
It would be a class considered miles ahead of any class Smith signed — at Memphis, Kentucky, Georgia or elsewhere.
It is a class likely to include guys that Calipari wants and typically has landed — including forward D.J. Jeffries, who de-committed from Kentucky Monday.
There is considerable chatter about James Wiseman, a center some consider the nation’s top prospect.
And perhaps forward Trendon Watford, a Top 20 prospect as well as the younger brother of former Indiana star Christian Watford.
And forward Matthew Hurt, a top 5 prospect from the long-fertile Memphis recruiting turf of Minneapolis. There are others. Check the message boards.
Penny Hardaway has developed the clout of John Wooden with a career record of 0-0.
“Recruiting is not about Xs and Os or how big your arena is or how many championships your program has won,” one college coach told me after the Jeffries’ news broke. “You’ve got to quit thinking that way.”
Teach me how to think, please.
“Recruiting is about relationships and convincing kids you’re looking out for their best interests,” the coach said. “That’s what matters the most.”
“It’s unusual circumstances because Penny won at a high-level of AAU and (three) championships as a high school coach,” another former college coach said.
“And he’s got guys on his staff (Mike Miller and Sam Mitchell) with NBA connections. Kids are impressed by that.”
True, true and true. What is also true is Hardaway lacks the coaching credentials of Smith or Calipari. In 2018, that’s as relevant as VCR.
Smith was pushed out of Memphis after two seasons. Sweet-talking recruits or the media was never one of Smith’s favorite things to do. He wasn’t going to win fans with his charm or style of play.
In Memphis, nobody did more to hurt Smith more than Smith. His decision to demote the father (Keelon Lawson) of two top players from assistant coach essentially drained any goodwill Smith had in the Memphis grass roots basketball community.
“What Tubby did isn’t what you do to keep your job in Memphis,” another coach said.
Smith, 67, will finish his career in the Big South Conference at High Point University in North Carolina, a program that won 14 of 30 games last season.
Memphis clamored for Hardaway, a 47-year-old rookie college head coach. Hardaway was more likely to do one thing Smith could not do:
Get commitments from players who typically commit to schools like Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas and Arizona.
Example A came this week. The recruiting wise guys are now predicting Jeffries will land at Memphis, a reasonable expectation considering Jeffries played on an AAU basketball team coached by Hardaway.
What about Wiseman?
“I’d be surprised if he didn’t sign with Memphis,” one coach said.
Can Hardaway coach?
I can’t answer that question.
He won as a high school coach. He won as an AAU coach.
But that’s not winning in college basketball.
Clyde Drexler, Isiah Thomas and Mark Price cut the line when they took college head coaching jobs without serving substantial time as college assistant coaches the way that Smith and Calipari served. (Add Roy Williams, Bill Self, Jay Wright and Tom Izzo to the Paid Their Dues List.) Drexler (Houston), Thomas (FIU) and Price (Charlotte) whiffed.
It’s too soon to make the call on the Chris Mullin (St. John's), Patrick Ewing (Georgetown), Avery Johnson (Alabama) or Bobby Hurley (Arizona State) experiments.
Does Hardaway need peerless coaching credentials?
I can answer that one: NO.
Penny Hardaway has become the talk of college basketball this summer — with a career record of 0-0.
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