Penny Hardaway and Rick Barnes got off to a rocky start as the Tennessee-Memphis rivalry was renewed in 2018 — that may be putting it lightly.
Here’s the short version of the story.
Barnes beat Hardaway’s Tigers in Memphis last year 102-92, but the game wasn’t what took center stage afterwards. At the end of the matchup, Tennessee had grown frustrated with with constant flopping from Memphis. Jordan Bone and Alex Lomax had words, and Hardaway accused Tennessee players after the game of coming over with their fists balled ready to fight.
Both Bone and Barnes criticized the flopping after the game. Hardaway responded with a tirade in his Monday press conference, finishing by saying, “Rick Barnes, get the f*** outta here.” He also called Barnes “low class.”
Barnes never really responded to that, but did take his opportunities to have fun with the situation.
Naturally, all of this has created a gigantic rematch this season. The Tennessee-Memphis game will be one of the most anticipated of the entire season, especially with Hardaway having to come to Knoxville this time around.
But the lead up to this one has been tame. Both Barnes and Hardaway are choosing to take the high road, seemingly putting last season’s drama behind them. You’d expect that from Barnes, who didn’t seem real interested in throwing gas on the fire last year.
But even Penny told reporters this week that everything is good heading into Saturday between he and Barnes.
Penny Hardaway says all is good between he and Rick Barnes. No drama going into Saturday’s Memphis-UT matchup.— Sudu Upadhyay (@SuduUpadhyay) December 12, 2019
Penny: “I’ve always had a lot of respect for Coach Barnes, I was just protecting my team last year.” pic.twitter.com/75Rz3V5XgA
Barnes took a similar approach this week, praising the job that Hardaway has done since arriving at Memphis.
“Penny has done a terrific job,” Barnes said earlier this week. “He’s got a lot of young players obviously that are very talented. I think he’s done a great job coaching those guys because it’s not easy when you have to start with as many young players as he’s had.”
So is the hatchet buried? It sure seems to be for now.
But don’t expect Tennessee fans inside of Thompson-Boling Arena to feel that way. This will probably be one of the most intense atmospheres that you’ll see in all of college basketball this season. How will Hardaway’s young team respond in that setting? That may tell the tale of this game.
Both sides have completely different rosters this season. Memphis added gobs of talent in the 2019 recruiting class, while Tennessee sent four starters to the NBA. The players are different, but this one means just as much to Hardaway, Barnes and both fanbases.