The Commercial Appeal
Is Lomax emerging at just the right time?
Alex Lomax felt it before he ever got his hand on the ball.
In a tight game against UCF, one of the best ball thieves in Memphis basketball history read Brandon Suggs’ eyes and made a break on the pass intended for Ithiel Horton when it happened. He didn’t know what it was, but he knew it wasn’t good. The ball bounced out of bounds after he deflected it with his left hand and Lomax bounced on his left foot from one end of the court to the other before dropping to his knees with one hand near his groin area.
“It popped,” he told the team’s head athletic trainer Darrell Turner, who is also the school’s senior associate athletic director for sports medicine.
Lomax’s groin actually tore completely away from the bone. The fifthyear senior didn’t know what to think when he heard that news, but the internet indicated to him that it could take as many as five months to recover. “Discouraging” is how Lomax – who had already dealt with more than his share of injuries – described the feeling when it sank in that his final time walking off a court in a Tiger uniform might have been in Orlando, grimacing in excruciating pain with the trainer’s hand on his back.
Exactly two months later, Lomax stood tall inside Dickies Arena with an ear-to-ear smile across his face as he celebrated Memphis’ first conference championship in more than a decade.
Perhaps it was fitting that, in just his seventh game back after taking just 39 days off to heal, maybe the most signature sequence of one of the program’s signature wins played out exactly how it was intended to against UCF in January. Late in the second half, with the Houston Cougars hoping to cut into Memphis’ 10-point lead, Lomax snuck up behind Terrance Arceneaux and lunged for the ball. One swipe of his left hand later, Lomax scooped the ball up, outraced Arceneaux and sank the layup over Jamal
A referee blew his whistle and the roof nearly blew off the building. In the ensuing scene, riding a wave of emotion, Lomax showed everyone in attendance and those watching on national TV exactly what he’s made of.
“It might have been unprofessional in the moment,” Lomax said. “But it was just something, you know, that I had to let out. I’ve got a lot of emotions that I don’t let out, so that was just one in that moment. Hopefully in March Madness, we’ll get a part two of that.”
The emotion didn’t stop there. Once the game ended and Memphis celebrated its 75-65 win – officially stamping its ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year – one of the first people Memphis coach Penny Hardaway found was Lomax. A relationship that began when Lomax was a keep-aneye-on-this-one 12-year-old and Hardaway was exploring the idea of breaking into coaching has endured scores of ups and downs, on the court and off.
For Hardaway, who also won a state championship as a coach with Lomax as his star point guard at East High, it was important to encompass all of it with him when they embraced for the first time as confetti showered the celebration.
“Yeah, it was emotional because, you know, A-LO lost his grandmother (in 2015). We lost (former East High coach) Desmond Merriweather (in 2015),” he said. “We lost George (Bee – Lomax’s best friend – in 2020). We lost two players that played with him in middle school that was with us along the way. We were doing this for all of them.”
Said Lomax: “It felt like it was back in the day once we won the state. And we did it for our loved ones. We know they’re proud. We know they would be right here with us along the way. So, we’re gonna carry them right on our shoulders.”
Hardaway and Lomax have Memphis back in the NCAA Tournament. That’s where, as an 8-seed, the Tigers will face 9-seed FAU on Friday (8:20 p.m., TNT) at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Whether it ends there or in New York City (at the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight) or in Houston (at the Final Four), it will bring an end to a playercoach partnership as tight as any in Memphis history. Hardaway admits he thinks back to how it all started and said his appreciation for Lomax has never been higher.
“I’ll go through all those memories with me, him and Dez and all those days growing up at Lester (Middle School),” said Hardaway. “It’ll be some emotions, because, man, he’s been terrific for me and my career. And, also, for the city of Memphis and (the University of) Memphis.”
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at email@example.com or on Twitter @munzly.