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The Rebels have vowed to approach every game that way. After spending so much time in the spotlight, they seem to be adapting nicely to the shadows.
A Monumental Beginning
O.K., so it's a bit of a stretch to compare Anfernee (Penny) Hardaway, Memphis State's 6'7" sophomore point guard, with that other hero from Memphis, but the three notable debuts that occurred last Friday night made it easy to get carried away. Not only did Hardaway, a do-everything player in the style of Magic Johnson, play his first college game after sitting out his freshman year as a Prop 48 case (SI, Aug. 12), but he also did it in the Tigers' brand-new arena, The Pyramid, and in the inaugural game of the six-team Great Midwest Conference.
Tiger fans, who filled the 20,000-seat arena, got carried away as well. They prematurely dubbed the new arena the Tomb of Doom, only to see Memphis State become its first victim. The nickname didn't intimidate DePaul, which marred the occasion with a 92-89 overtime win.
For Memphis State, Hardaway's performance was much like the game: It wasn't perfect, but it was exciting. He earned a good news/bad news triple double with 18 points, 15 rebounds and 13 turnovers, but don't be surprised if some of the passes that he threw out of bounds against DePaul turn into layups when Hardaway and his teammates grow more accustomed to each other.
There was a time when Hardaway, who also had six assists, four blocked shots and four steals in the game, must have wondered if his college career would ever begin. After sitting out last season, he was shot in his right foot while being robbed on the street in front of his cousin's house in Memphis last April. Now he's glad his college debut is finally out of the way. "I went into shell shock in the first half," he said in reference to his having made only one of eight shots and having scored just three points before the intermission. "I tried to go to the game, instead of letting the game come to me. That's why I was missing layups. I just settled down in the second half."
He settled down enough to calmly sink a three-pointer with seven seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime. Even in defeat, Hardaway gave every indication that he will be the spectacular player he was advertised to be when he attended Treadwell High in Memphis.
"I know he's going to be a great player, but it may not be tonight or tomorrow night," said Tiger coach Larry Finch. "It's just a different world when you're coming out in front of 20,000 screaming people instead of 500."
Down but Not Out