Memphis basketball coach Penny Hardaway, with the key he wears on a chain around his neck ever visible, was unflinchingly confident.
In the narrow corridor outside the visitors’ locker room at Houston’s Fertitta Center after last week’s 72-64 loss to the top-ranked Cougars, Hardaway shot down any notion that he and the Tigers lacked confidence, even if they were missing Kendric Davis, possibly the best player in the AAC.
“We always believe,” he said. “That’s something you just can’t take from us. We’re gonna believe, in any game that we go in, that we can win. No matter who the team is we’re playing. We don’t really worry about the outside noise.”
The key, nor his staunch resolve, isn’t exactly something new for Hardaway.
The Tigers’ coach first wore the gameday fashion accessory throughout his first season as the Tigers’ coach in 2018-19. Then, it stayed in his locker for three years. But not long before this season got underway, Hardaway came across the key and decided it was time to break it back out.
The significance of the matte black key, which hangs from a ball chain?
It is inscribed with the word “Believe” and is made by a Los Angeles-based company called The Giving Keys. On its website, the company states, “You’re encouraged to embrace your word then pass it on, ‘paying it forward’ to someone you feel needs the message more than you.”
Hardaway isn’t the only Tiger who wears one. He had enough left over from his initial purchase that he issued one to each member of his coaching staff as well. He said the timing simply felt right to reintroduce the keys.
“Because I really do believe in this team,” he said. “I believe this team has the opportunity to do something special.”
The Tigers (20-7, 10-4 AAC) have won eight of their past 10 games and are in third place in the league, behind Houston and Tulane. They are set to face Wichita State on Thursday (6 p.m., ESPN2) on the road. Kendric Davis (21.8 ppg, 6.0 apg) and DeAndre Williams (17.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg) are the leaders on a team largely made up of transfers and homegrown role players. That represents a departure from the way Hardaway constructed his roster in recent years when he signed the nation’s top recruiting classes in 2019 and 2021.
“We’re doing things that no one else thought we could do with the roster we have,” Hardaway said. “Because we don’t have a lot of 5-stars. I believe that if we come together on both sides of the ball, we’ll be tough to beat moving forward.”
According to its website, The Giving Keys donates a portion of its profits to nonprofit partner Chrysalis, which provides employment resources and support for those transitioning out of homelessness.
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at [email protected] or on Twitter @munzly.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Why Memphis coach Penny Hardaway wears a key on a chain around his neck
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