The Commercial Appeal

Hardaway stands up for Williams after joke about his age

- Jason Munz

Deandre Williams is one of the top players in the American Athletic Conference.

The Memphis basketball senior forward is, after 27 games, sixth in the league in scoring (17.3 points per game), fourth in rebounding (7.9) and second in field goal percentage (54%). He leads the Tigers in 3-point field goal percentage. He’s second on the team in assists and blocks. He’s third on the team in steals.

Williams, at 26 years old, is also No. 1 in the country in age − a fact that gets as much, or more, attention than anything else about him. And Memphis coach Penny Hardaway, along with many others, is over it.

During last week’s game at Houston, one comment made by ESPN analyst Mark Adams touched a nerve for Tigers fans and Hardaway.

Adams brought up Williams’ uncommon age and went on to joke that the Houston native is “only 39 years away from Medicare.”

On his radio show Monday, Hardaway explained the circumstan­ces that led to Williams’ delayed timeline.

“He got tricked by some guys to leave his high school to go to a virtual school,” he said. “Stayed there to play basketball, was promised he was gonna get these different scholarshi­ps. He did not get the scholarshi­ps and the guys just left him hanging. Found out that none of the accreditat­ion would carry over for him to get into college. He has to go to night school and work until he got his credits back up to go to college. Didn’t get into college until 21 years old.”

Even when Williams finally got a scholarshi­p and enrolled at Evansville in 2017, he was forced to sit out his first season, as he was ruled an academic non-qualifier. Williams played the 201819 season as a 22-year-old freshman for the Purple Aces, then transferre­d to Memphis.

Hardaway continued without holding back.

“Every time we have a telecast, these commentato­rs are talking about his age in a negative fashion,” he said. “I think that’s so bad. I think it is unfair how they always talk about his age during the games. I hate that for Deandre. It was brought to my attention about Stetson Bennett, the quarterbac­k at Georgia, is 25 years old. I didn’t know he was that old, because they would never say it. So, what’s the difference? To me, it just has to be fair across the board.”

Hardaway wasn’t the only Tiger bothered by Adams’ quip. Special assistant to the head coach Shawn Forrest expressed his feelings in a series of since-deleted tweets aimed at Adams. A short time later, Forrest said Adams called to apologize and told Forrest he plans to reach out to Williams as well.

In a recent interview with The Commercial Appeal, Williams said there are times he struggles with the near-constant jabs and jeersabout his age. He admitted he has even heard it inside Fedexforum during Tigers’ home games.

For example: “‘How old are you?’ Or, ‘You need to go get a job!’ Or, ‘He’s cheating!’”

Williams said he tries his best to ignore it.

“I know it’s more love than negativity, but the negative stuff can get to you,” said Williams. “In all reality, like, by myself at home, sometimes I don’t feel great. I am human. I’m just a regular person. It can demoralize you. But I try not to complain when people talk about my age, (because) nobody knows, has no idea how I got here. If they wondered how I got here or knew how I got here, they wouldn’t say anything bad.”

Reach sports writer Jason Munz at jason.munz@commercial­ or on Twitter @munzly.

 ?? PETRE THOMAS/USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Memphis Tigers forward Deandre Williams reacts after a basket during the first half against the Temple Owls at Fedexforum on Feb. 12.
PETRE THOMAS/USA TODAY SPORTS Memphis Tigers forward Deandre Williams reacts after a basket during the first half against the Temple Owls at Fedexforum on Feb. 12.

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