Deep in the football-obsessed South, Memphis is a basketball town at its heart. When Memphis University fields a competitive basketball team, the town is juiced. The last time that Memphis was in the national conversation, it was because the 2007-2008 Memphis team went 38-2, buoyed by breakout performances from freshman guard Derrick Rose. Their second loss of the season was in the national title game, in overtime. They were really, really good.
But then it all fell apart. Head coach John Calipari—the Matisse of modern college basketball recruiting—left to take the vacant job at powerhouse Kentucky. Memphis floundered for a few years before deciding to tear it up and tap someone with deep Memphis ties.
Ever since Penny Hardaway returned to Memphis, there’s been a new energy around the team. While they didn’t qualify for the NCAA tournament, they made the NIT with a young team still finding its footing. In a basketball landscape where recruiting is increasingly tricky, Penny’s arrival in Memphis might usher in a new era of college coaches. Oh, and also: He has the best recruiting class in the nation coming next year.
Here’s why you need to become obsessed with Memphis Tigers basketball, maybe immediately.