Welcome back to the Tigers Basketball newsletter. Today, Tigers beat writer Jason Munz:
ATHENS, Ga. — The coaching staff convened first, separately from the players.
After about 15 minutes, Penny Hardaway and the rest of his staff entered the visiting locker room inside Stegeman Coliseum at the University of Georgia and got everything out on the table. Almost 30 minutes later, the Memphis basketball team began boarding the airport-bound bus. Hardaway, following a round of interviews with members of the media, hung his head as he moved toward the exit.
That’s when freshman Emoni Bates sidled up, put his arm around his coach and had a quiet conversation. The specifics of that talk are unknown at this point, but it could represent a turning point in a season that’s quickly trending in the wrong direction.
The Tigers are coming off back-to-back losses, the most recent one handed to them by a Georgia team that just got beat at home by Wofford. After the 82-79 defeat at the hands of the Bulldogs, Hardaway was candidly critical of his core of veterans. The same ones that were big factors in the team’s NIT championship run last season – Alex Lomax, Landers Nolley II, DeAndre Williams and Lester Quinones – now find themselves in the proverbial dog house.
“At some point, these veterans have to step up,” Hardaway said. “They’ve just got to step up, man. Today, we came into the game saying we’re going to play a heavy load of the veterans. And, we did. And, we lost.”
Once viewed as an NCAA Tournament lock, Memphis’ two most recent outings do not inspire much confidence in the team’s prospects for ending its seven-season string of absences from the field of 68. In spite of Wednesday’s outcome, though, the Tigers played far better than they have in weeks. Leading the nation in turnover average (20.3) through six games, Memphis committed just 11 – tied for the second-fewest since it registered 10 in the second game of the 2020-21 season. Hardaway wanted a higher assist total and he got it. The Tigers’ 15 against Georgia is tied for the second-most this season.
Memphis shot better than it has all year at the free throw line and its overall field goal percentage was the best its been in weeks.
But it wasn’t enough for Hardaway.
“The talent doesn’t mean anything if the talent doesn’t want to play together,” he said. “You can talk about a talented team that should be winning but, man, if you’ve got inner stuff that you can not get past that – obviously, we’re seeing that.”
Hardaway said Wednesday he’s looking for leaders, and he’s not picky. Perhaps Bates’ impromptu private meeting with Hardaway is a sign that he might be the man for the job.
You can reach Commercial Appeal Tiger basketball beat writer Jason Munz via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @munzly
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis basketball: Perhaps Emoni Bates is ready to be Penny Hardaway's leader