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Look Out, Here Comes Memphis In the Zion Cruz Race

Penny Hardaway has yet to win a national championship. In fact, he has yet to earn a Final Four or even an NCAA Tournament berth. But college basketball has rocked back and forth since he took the Memphis job, as he brought with him immediate recruiting ties to the best players in the country.

He made a splash by landing the top recruiting class in the country upon taking the Tigers job by landing James Wiseman. Today, he’s sitting on another top rated class by grabbing Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren. The talent haul is crazy at Memphis, even if the results aren’t. In his three seasons with the Tigers, Hardaway has gone to a pair of NITs and had the ’20 postseason canceled (the Tigers had 21 wins). Granted, Memphis won the NIT last year. But Memphis fans aren’t clamoring for that kind of banner.

Zion Cruz’s recruitment has been unpredictable and zany since the beginning, with favorites rising and falling with the seasons. The latest arrow? The 5-star Jersey City product is favoring Memphis. He’ll visit the campus next week after a Memphis assistant saw him at an open gym and finally offered.

In keeping with the peculiar arc of the Cruz recruitment, Memphis didn’t have Cruz on its radar until recently? One of the top 30 players in the country, and by some accounts a top 3 combo guard in ’22 doesn’t have an offer from the Tigers until an assistant spies him at an open gym?

Hard to argue with the recruiting gameplan of the Tigers. It’s clearly working, but the offer this late in the process is apparently not enough to dissuade Cruz. And his interest has gotten buzz around the industry, as the analysts at 247 Sports are now split between Auburn and Memphis for landing him.

Originally, Auburn was the strong favorite. Then Zion reopened his recruitment. Then a five-pack of outsiders crashed the party. Now he has a late offer from Memphis and they may be the favorite. If you don’t like the projections of the Zion Cruz race, just wait 15 minutes. It’s bound to change.

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