MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Penny Hardaway says the NBA background of his Memphis coaching staff is creating a little jealousy among other coaches, putting a target on his back in his first season with the Tigers.
"I'm getting used to this as a coach because it's a little jealousy from a lot of these coaches around the country," Hardaway said Monday. "I do understand that because we are NBA players trying to come back, and we didn't have any experience as college coaches. So we didn't quote, unquote, 'Pay our dues.' So the coaches and their so-called boys that are in the media, they're going to always throw jabs at us."
"For sure, I definitely feel like there's a target on my back. There's a lot of people that don't want me to succeed because it's going to look like an NBA guy came back with no experience and won so of course I relish in that." Anfernee Hardaway
The first-year coach says his Tigers still have to prove the detractors wrong by winning.
Hired in March to replace Tubby Smith, Hardaway hired former NBA players Mike Miller and Sam Mitchell, who's also a former NBA coach of the year, as assistants. Hardaway has made it clear he's tapping into his professional background to help his alma mater, including making tweaks to a year-old basketball facility on campus to bring it up to NBA quality.
His Tigers (13-7) just beat UCF, the preseason favorite in the American Athletic Conference, 77-57 this past weekend. And reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014 is Hardaway's goal in his debut season at Memphis, which faces a serious test this week with road games at Tulsa on Wednesday and at USF Bulls on Saturday.
Hardaway exchanged verbal jabs with Tennessee coach Rick Barnes a couple of days after the Vols beat the Tigers 102-92 in December. Hardaway declined to name any coaches he suspected of being jealous of his coaching staff, saying only that he hears the "rumbling" as they all fight for the same players in recruiting.
He said there's a bit of a backlash and negativity with the NBA approach Memphis is taking with him, Miller and Mitchell and that their NBA experience is "a little intimidating to a lot of people."
"For sure, I definitely feel like there's a target on my back," Hardaway said. "There's a lot of people that don't want me to succeed because it's going to look like an NBA guy came back with no experience and won so of course I relish in that."
Hardaway noted he played for some Hall of Fame coaches during his NBA career, and he also won three straight Tennessee high school basketball titles while also coaching his own AAU program.
"I'm not here to ruffle any feathers; I'm just here to win," Hardaway said.