Team Penny: Former NBA All-Star’s AAU Program Makes Their Presence Felt on Nike EYBL Scene

Photo courtesy of Position Sports/Nike.

By David Cordova

Every kid has dreams of making it big as a professional athlete. Being mentored by one is one of the best things that can happen to a youth.One former pro that exemplifies that is none other than former NBA star, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.

The four-time NBA All-Star was a star for the Orlando Magic from 1993 to 1999 and also played for the Phoenix Suns, Miami Heat and the New York Knicks over a thirteen-year career. He also gained fame with an acting role in the 1994 film, Blue Chips, and also had the famed Nike commercials that showcased him & Li’l Penny, a doll who was played by actor/comedian Chris Rock.

These days, now that he is long-retired, Hardaway is still involved with the game, as a coach on the youth scene. If you’re looking for a basketball program that churns out plenty of top-tier talent, meet Team Penny, the juggernaut that has been around for the last seven years and has been a beacon of hope to plenty of the youth from Memphis, Tennessee, where Hardaway is from, and plenty of other states.

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Team Penny in the huddle during Nike EYBL Session 1 at the Boo Williams Sportsplex in Hampton, Virginia. (Photo courtesy of J. Sneed Photos)

“The mission is academics first, we’re trying to get these kids into college,” says Hardaway. “The purpose is also an athletic scholarship, but the mission is to basically get them taken care of academically and then after that, basketball-wise, we’re trying to teach them and hone their craft so they can be ready for college.

When asked what made him want to start coaching, he replied, “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. In high school, I coached at a Boys & Girls Club, I’ve always wanted to work with kids, I vowed that once I retired from basketball, that’s what I wanted to do, so that’s what I’m doing.”

The last few years, Team Penny has been one of the best teams on the Nike EYBL circuit, which is one of the best leagues in the country. “It means a lot, because I’ve been with Nike my entire career,” says Hardaway about being in the EYBL, “and I’m definitely grateful that they brought this league about and it means a lot for us to be in it.”

Players that have played in the program include K.J. Lawson and Dedric Lawson (Kansas), Kevaughn Allen (Florida), Jonathan Williams (Gonzaga), Braxton Key (Alabama), Cameron Payne of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls and Dennis Smith, Jr., who just finished his freshman year at North Carolina State and is projected to be a top-ten draft pick in this June’s NBA Draft.

When you think of Memphis, Tennessee, some will look at it as the birthplace of legendary rock & roll singer Elvis Presley or as the home of the Memphis Grlizzlies of the NBA. However, thanks in large part to Hardaway, the basketball scene in Bluff City is a thriving one. “The basketball scene is major, Memphis is a basketball city,” says Hardaway, “and we’re basketball first. We’ve been competing every year, showing our talent against the rest of the nation, so we’re proud of these guys.”

Last season, Team Penny boasted a squad that consisted of players such as McDonald’s All-Americans, P.J. Washington (committed to Kentucky) and John Petty (committed to Alabama) and a supporting cast of Kahlil Garland (committed to Arkansas) and Isaiah Stokes (committed to Florida), who was one of toughest teams on the circuit that went 14-2 and made it all the way to the semifinals of the Nike Peach Jam, where they lost to the PSA Cardinals.

When asked about he felt about last summer’s ending, Hardaway replied, “I hate it, because we haven’t won it [Peach Jam] yet. Gotta win it.”

This year is going good so far for Team Penny, as they are off to a 5-3 start after the first two sessions. The notable players on the team’s roster are junior Alex Lomax, who saw significant time on last year’s team, who is averaging 11.1 points, five assists and 4.9 rebounds per game, then there is sophomore D.J. Jeffries, who is ranked No. 6 in the country in the Class of 2019 by ESPN, who is averaging 11.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. And then there is junior Ryan Boyce, who is averaging 8.2 points per game. Another highly-recruited player from the Lawson family, Chandler Lawson, who is ranked No. 20 in the country in the Class of 2019 by ESPN, is the leading scorer at 12.2 points and also averaging 9.5 rebounds per game for Team Penny.

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Alex Lomax goes up for the layup during Nike EYBL Session 1. (Photo courtesy of J. Sneed Photos)

One of the things that comes with being a recognizable name is the influence you have on the youth, and Hardaway has had a positive impact on his Team Penny players thus far. His advice to them when it comes to the recruiting process and life in general is, “I just tell them to make smart decisions. Don’t make decisions based on what someone else says, you’re the one who’s going to have to go to that college and spend how many ever years you’re going to spend there and make sure that’s what you want.”

When asked what’s in the future for the program, he says, “Well, right now, it’s a summer program, trying to put as many guys in to college as possible and hopefully all of them.”

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Josh Conrad on defense as Each 1 Teach 1’s Samir Stewart inbounds the ball. (Photo courtesy of J. Sneed Photos)

The main goal for this year’s squad in regards to making it back to the Peach Jam, “To win it. To win it all.” says Hardaway.

Highlights of Team Penny:

Courtesy of Hoop Journey.

Courtesy of Hoop Journey.

Courtesy of Hoop Journey.

Courtesy of Five-Star Basketball.

Courtesy of New Recruit Media.

Courtesy of Hoop Journey.

Courtesy of Courtside Films.

Courtesy of EYBL The Circuit.

Courtesy of Next Level Assessments.

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