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Penny Hardaway knows basketball and he knows young people. He relates to them well.
The game of basketball, especially at the NBA level, has changed drastically over the past 10 years. The influx of young talent has become the cornerstone of making a great team, and those teams with coaches who can relate to younger talent are the ones that benefit on the chances being taken on 19- and 20-year-old stars.
That is the best thing Penny Hardaway has going for him as he is being pursued by NBA teams, especially the Orlando Magic, which reportedly interviewed the former Magic star for their vacant head coaching position this past weekend.
The Magic apparently loved Hardaway, so much so that the coach spent much more time with the Magic brass than either side had expected, according to reports.
That did not come as a shock to American Athletic Conference coaching counterpart Johnny Dawkins of UCF. Dawkins embraces the idea that Hardaway could be very successful at the NBA level.
“I think the game has changed so much with so many young players that a lot of these [NBA] kids are as young as college players, so I don’t think that is insurmountable,” Dawkins said. “I think you can have success coming from college to the NBA for sure. It depends on the person.
“A guy like Penny could have success. He understands the game. He’s coached at every level. He’s coached high school kids, he’s coached college kids and he was a terrific NBA player. He played a long time, so I’m sure he has a great feel for the game and I think he would be terrific because of the experiences that he’s had.”
Dawkins is old-school and calls himself a blue-collar type player who worked hard to earn everything he received. After his senior season at Duke n 1986, Dawkins was awarded the James Naismith Award as the best player in the nation in college basketball. He led Duke to it’s third-ever national championship game, in which the Blue Devils lost again, this time to Louisville to finish 37-3 and runners-up for the third time.
So, Dawkins, who played in the NBA for nine seasons, knows basketball and he also knows what kind of coach Hardaway is.
“He’s a great relationship person ... It’s about relationships, and the thing I’ve learned coaching against hime is that players really love him and that carries over, whether you’re in college or the pros or high schools,” Dawkins said. “It’s about trust and he’s built that trust in high school and at the AAU level, and he’s developed that as a college coach and I think he could do the same thing in the NBA. ... I think he can be very successful.”
Hardaway-coached Memphis teams have have been aggressive on defense since he took over the program in 2018, and the Tigers hang their hats on that sort of defensive intensity creating their offensive flow. Dawkins has seen that first hand.
“What I was really impressed with is that they were one of the best defensive teams in the nation this past year,” Dawkins said. “That says a lot, to be able to teach your kids and get your kids to buy into that type of defensive intensity and pride on defense. It takes a lot of coaching and a lot of passion, and that’s how I know he did a great job.
“But he also does a good job offensively. They run good sets, they have good schemes and I think he’s utilized his personnel well and he’s had some very young teams, but I’ve watched him get better throughout each season that he has coached them.”
There are several coaches who have made the jump from college to NBA coaching with some success in the recent past and the first one to come to mind is Brad Stevens, whose success at Butler University led him to an opportunity with the Boston Celtics. Stevens, earlier this month, was moved off the sideline and into the front office as president of basketball operations, replacing Danny Ainge, who has left the franchise.
There have also been guys like John Beilein, Billy Donovan, John Calipari, Rick Pitino, and Larry Brown, just to name a few, who have made the jump directly from being a college head coach to NBA head coach. It worked for some and didn’t for others.
“There have been a number of guys who have gone on and been solid coaches in the NBA and I don’t think Penny would be any different,” said Dawkins. “I think he’d be a good NBA coach because he brings that added dimension of having played in the league, so he understands what it takes on a daily basis to get better, what it takes on a daily basis to build a team, so I think he has an advantage there having done that himself.”
The biggest thing is being able to relate to young players and Hardaway obviously has established that about himself just by looking at what he has accomplished.
“I think someone coming from college who has that type of background of working with young people can be very successful because the game has gone to the use of a lot of younger players,” Dawkins said. “Therefore, there is a lot more development that needs to still be done at the NBA level. When I played, most guys played four years, so when they were coming out, they’ve already developed, to a certain extent.
“These guys today are coming out at 18, 19, 20 ... they’re a lot younger, so player development is a big part of that, and that’s what we specialize with in college. Penny has that understanding of young teams that are trying to develop.
“Penny is a guy who I have a lot of respect for having watched him and coached against him. I think he can do well at the NBA level.”