After its flurry of high-profile commitments and signings in recent weeks, Penny Hardaway's Memphis program now has the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation according to 247Sports.com.
With the addition of two potential lottery-pick frontcourt players, Mike Hopkins' Washington squad now has the No. 10 class.
With such recruiting success comes heightened pressure for both schools to not only make the NCAA Tournament next year but to make deep runs as well.
“I think that we want the pressure,” Hardaway told me last month for Forbes SportsMoney. “Being in the position that all of us, me, Mike [Miller] and Sam [Mitchell], we had pressure to get to where we got to, to get to the league. So the pressure of having really good players and then putting that on us, and say, hey, you need to get here, we understand what that means, and we want that. That means that you have a great team and you have the opportunity to win a national championship when they start putting that type of pressure on you."
Memphis hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2014 when Josh Pastner was the head coach. The last time the Tigers made a Final Four was back in when they made the NCAA championship game under John Calipari and lost to Kansas thanks to Mario Chalmers.
Yet now with the addition of a star-studded seven-man class that includes five players ranked in the ESPN 100—No. 1 James Wiseman, No. 17 Precious Achiuwa, No. 25 D.J. Jeffries, No. 38 Boogie Ellis, and No. 81 Lester Quinones —Hardaway and Memphis will not only be loaded with talent but loaded with expectations, too.
First off, Hardaway and his staff will have plenty of mouths to feed in terms of getting all those players the basketball. Wiseman, Achiuwa, Ellis, and holdovers Tyler Harris and Lance Thomas all want to score, so Hardaway will have to sell individual sacrifice and team goals. How that will go over with a group of players who want to make the NBA—Wiseman is the projected No. 1 pick in 2020 per ESPN.com, and Achiuwa is at No. 10—remains to be seen.
NBA scouts, journalists, and fans will be following Memphis intensely next season, and the Tigers could be a lot of fun to watch with all that talent.
But remember that LSU with No. 1 pick Ben Simmons failed to make the NCAA Tournament in 2016 and Washington with No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz didn't go dancing in 2017.
Both Johnny Jones at LSU and Lorenzo Romar at Washington were ultimately fired in the aftermath.
Hardaway is a folk hero in Memphis and is arguably the hottest coach in the country right now, and no one is suggesting he would be fired if he fails to make the Big Dance. But he will have to prove he can coach college basketball and win games—a lot of them, and a lot of important ones—next season. Or there will be repercussions.
"We really want to finish this class off with our last four scholarships being studs, and hopefully we can do that,” Hardaway told me before he went out and added Ellis, Quinones, and Achiuwa in the last few weeks. “And then the expectations go way high because you give yourself an opportunity to be mentioned in the breath of one of the teams that’s up-and-coming and in the right direction.”
As for Washington, Hopkins is coming off a season in which Washington won the Pac-12 regular-season title before losing to North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Now here comes a recruiting class featuring forwards Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, the No. 3- and No. 7-ranked players in 2019 per ESPN.com. In both cases, Washington beat out Kentucky for the player. Both considered other schools as well.
Jaden McDaniels with the Transition dunk in front of Cal and Kenny Payne. He definitely has a body type similar to KD. pic.twitter.com/8uWfYQELd6— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) December 9, 2018
Stewart, who may have the best motor of any big man in 2019, is the projected No. 11 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, per ESPN, while McDaniels, who has been compared to Kevin Durant, is at No. 8.
"Jaden is an elite player, tremendously athletic for his size and is going to be a great addition to our class," Hopkins said. "He has an unbelievable work ethic and a great skill set for his position, as he can do it all. Getting an incredible player from our state is not only special but he is a proven winner and has developed into not only the top player in the state, but one of the best in the nation. He is the perfect fit for the culture we are creating here as we continue to build the UW program and we couldn't be more excited to see him in purple and gold."
Now that he and Stewart are committed to Washington, expectations will be sky high in Seattle.
And in Memphis, too.
With success comes expectations. And now the coaches—and their players—will have to deliver. Or face the consequences.