Q+A: Penny Hardaway
Penny talks HS Hoops with SLAMonline.
While in Memphis checking out the Penny Hardaway Hoopfest, I was fortunate enough to have a few minutes to sit down with the tournament’s namesake himself.
My favorite until AI came into the League in ’96, it was one of those refreshing moments to sit down and truly see that $100 million didn’t change someone’s life at all. This was the case with Penny, who chopped it up with every fan who came up to him as if he had known them his entire life.
Fresh off of being featured in Ish 155, we opted to rap about the current state of youth basketball as opposed to his NBA career or the dominance that he’s had on the sneaker game.
Here are Penny’s thoughts on the present state of grassroots basketball, what he may change, and his upcoming splash on the AAU circuit:
SLAM: Penny, you’ve got an amazing event going on right here. Tell me how all of this came about.
PH: First of all, I’d like to give all thanks to Travis Haddock from Haddock Sports. He’s the guy who puts these tournaments together. He’s the one who came to me with the idea and the concept of having my name involved, and instantly I was interested. He mentioned Oak Hill, Simeon, Montverde, Our Savior, and plenty of others. All of those teams with all of the talent that we have in this city…the potential was unbelievable. I was excited for the city to have this much talent under one roof.
SLAM: The city of Memphis has an incredible amount of talent right now, and not just at the top. I’ve had countless people rave to me about how good this freshman class is. Are there any current players in the city that have really caught your eye?
PH: The basketball that we have in our middle schools and high schools is unbelievable, man. You’ve got Johnathan Williams, J-3, over at Southwind. Then you’ve got Adam Weary and Cameron Golden, the two guards over at Ridgeway. At Melrose, you’ve got Markel Crawford. Nick King at East is going to be a good one, then Jarnell Stokes from Tennessee was supposed to be at Central, but he couldn’t play this year. I’m sure I’m leaving a couple of guys out, but it’s crazy.
SLAM: It’s almost as if you serve as a big brother than just being known as the retired NBA legend to a lot of these kids. Tell me a little about the relationship that you have with the players in Memphis.
PH: I’m just normal. I don’t try to act like I’m better than anybody and I do feel that I am like an older brother to a lot of these kids. Even though I’m old enough to be most of these kid’s daddies, I treat them like they’re my little brothers. That’s how I’ve always treated them. I never treated them as if I were bigger than them in the game of life. I’ve always respected the kids, asked them questions, and been very nice to them. In a way, I am the big brother in the this city because I’m there for everybody.
SLAM: You had an INSANE high school career at Treadwell. You were named National High School Player of the Year and considered by many to be the No. 1 player in your class. Looking back on things nearly 20 years later, what is the one truly lasting memory that you had of your high school career?
PH: I think that I would have to say our state run. A close second would be going to tournaments like this out of town. We went to St. Louis and played against Vashon (High School), who had a really good team. Then we went to Raleigh to play against Shawn Bradley and All Hollows out of New York. We were a game away from playing Rodney Rogers. Those are lasting memories to me when I was in high school because they gave me opportunities to showcase my talents.
SLAM: Just from talking to you today and seeing what this tournament embodies, I can tell how passionate you are about basketball at the grassroots level. When will you be making a splash on the AAU circuit?
PH: I really want to do something with AAU, but I just haven’t figured out a way to do it. Thaddeus Young of the Sixers wanted me to come and partner with them. Also, some guys that used to be with YOMCA wanted me to come work with them, but they don’t have a name yet. I wanted to do ‘Team 1 Cent.’ I know a lot of kids are waiting for me to do that. Not to knock any other team, but they know the knowledge and notoriety that I’m going to bring to the game.
SLAM: There’s a lot of debate going on about the way that the NCAA is attempting to change grassroots basketball. If you were able to change one thing in today’s grassroots basketball, what would it be?
PH: How strict they are in regards to how you can’t be with your coach for a certain period of time. We’re losing the battle with our kids in terms of fundamentals. We need to take all of the rules out to where you can be in the gym as long as you want to be, you can train as long as you train, etc. You should be able to help underprivileged youth in inner-city neighborhoods without it looking like you’re trying to recruit them or anything like that. It’s more needed now than it was when I was coming up because basketball is becoming secondary to a lot of kids right now because they don’t have enough time to play. They took out freshman basketball in Memphis right now. We don’t need that. We need to just leave it alone back to the way that we used have it and let the kids enjoy sports.
SLAM: Have you ever thought about bringing freshman basketball back to Memphis yourself? Whether it be through a sponsored league with your name on it or perhaps as a tax write-off?
PH: Man, my brain is working. My brain is working because think of all these kids who are great in middle school and then they go to high school and the coach goes, “We have a good team, so we’re going to sit you down.” Then you have to sit a kid an entire year because of a budget cut. I’ve never heard of that in my life. Anything can happen with these kids. It’s scary right now. Hopefully I can find a way to bring freshman basketball back to the city of Memphis.