Rick Barnes witnessed Penny Hardaway’s most significant remorse during his tenure as the Memphis basketball coach.


Striving to steer clear of regret, Penny Hardaway endeavors earnestly. Nonetheless, he retains a desire that he had chosen the more honorable path back in 2018. This was when the fledgling head coach of Memphis basketball found himself entangled in a widely publicized dispute with Rick Barnes, the coach of Tennessee, leading to his sole remorseful episode since joining the Tigers’ ranks. He yearns for the chance to undo and approach it distinctively.

FORT WORTH, TX – MARCH 13: Head coach Penny Hardaway of the Memphis Tigers looks on Memphis plays the Houston Cougars in the first half of the American Athletic Conference Mens Basketball Tournament Championship at Dickies Arena on March 13, 2022 in Fort Worth, Texas. Houston defeated Memphis 71-53. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

Seated within the Flamboyan Conference Center’s lobby at the Casa de Campo Resort, Penny Hardaway ruminated on his unorthodox journey. Meanwhile, the Tigers readied themselves in an adjoining room for an exhibition match in La Romana, Dominican Republic. The iconic figure of Memphis was enlisted to breathe new life into a program ensnared in an extended period of stagnation, both within the game and beyond. While he boasted achievements as a coach in middle school, high school, and AAU, he embarked on his college coaching path devoid of prior experience. His realm of expertise had chiefly centered on his illustrious career as a professional player.

Due to his somewhat atypical background and the innate “swag” he emanated right from the start, Hardaway is convinced that these factors contributed to some of the initial difficulties he encountered during his tenure.

“I was well aware of the path I was stepping onto,” he remarked. “The coaching landscape is dominated by a longstanding network of individuals who have been part of the scene for decades, adhering to certain established practices. My approach diverged from the conventional, rendering me an outsider.”

Subsequently, in the aftermath of a fervent Tigers-Vols clash at FedExForum on December 15, 2019 (ultimately clinched by Tennessee, 102-92), Hardaway found himself thrust into the spotlight of a nationwide narrative. He levied allegations that Tennessee players had exacerbated the already charged atmosphere on the court by leaving their seats “with clenched fists, engaging in verbal jousts with our team.”

In a subsequent radio appearance, Barnes openly ridiculed Memphis for what he characterized as an excessive display of flopping during the game. This remark deeply offended Hardaway, culminating in his concluding remarks during a subsequent interview: “Rick Barnes, leave this (expletive) place.”

Reflecting on the episode, Hardaway acknowledged, “I should have refrained from responding. My intention was to stand up for my players, but it undeniably spiraled into an exaggerated ordeal that rubbed many the wrong way.”

To such an extent that Hardaway entertains the notion that this incident could be a factor in his recent elevation to the apex of a less-than-flattering — albeit seemingly arbitrary — listing. The “College Basketball Report,” a X (formerly known as Twitter) account boasting a following of 30,000, designated Hardaway and Michigan coach Juwan Howard as “the most polarizing figures among college basketball coaches in recent seasons.”

The Tigers and Vols crossed paths once again in 2019, this occasion in Knoxville. Memphis emerged victorious with a score of 51-47. The two teams were set to conclude their three-game series in 2020 with a neutral-ground contest at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, but the onset of COVID-19 resulted in its postponement. An attempt was made to reschedule the game for December 2021; however, it was canceled anew due to positive COVID-19 tests and subsequent adherence to contact tracing measures. This led to an insufficient number of players for the Tigers to assemble even a starting lineup.

As of now, the game remains unrescheduled, and there have been no indications pointing towards any future rescheduling. Barnes maintained a reserved stance on the issue in April.

“We haven’t had any conversations,” he replied when queried about potential discussions with Hardaway regarding a revival of the series.

Hardaway expressed uncertainty about the obstacles hindering the reestablishment of a matchup with the Vols.

“Coach Barnes and I interact amicably when we meet and have conversations,” he disclosed. “While I can’t gauge his sentiments in private, I am genuinely keen on revitalizing the rivalry. Our previous encounter turned out to be an exceptional game, especially considering my earlier statements. It’s just unfortunate that circumstances prevented us from having that concluding match in Nashville.”

“I hold a strong desire to engage in that Nashville fixture,” he added.


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