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Penny Hardaway — perhaps the greatest what-if in NBA history

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The year is 1996 and Penny Hardaway is on top of the world. At the young age of 25, he had already won an Olympic gold medal, been named a member of the All-NBA first team twice, and out-dueled Michael Jordan in a playoff series.

Based on what NBA history has shown us, Penny Hardaway should have built upon his early success and had a long and successful career, but he didn't. Instead, Penny did not make an All-NBA team after the '97 season or an All-Star game after the '98 season — so, what happened?

Well, to put it simply, he like many before him had bad knees. After the summer of '96 penny struggled with knee injuries that zapped him of his athleticism and explosiveness. Add this on to the departure of Shaq to L.A. and in a matter of months, Penny went from one of the NBA's brightest young stars, on one of its best teams, to an injury-riddled former phenom who would never fulfill his full potential. Sad, I know.

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At his best, Penny was compared to a young Magic Johnson. He was a six-foot-seven athletic point guard who could bolt set his teammates up and score with ease. Nowadays, people remember Penny as Shaq's first sidekick, but really he was Shaq's first wingman — a player whose future was so promising that Nike built a signature campaign around him.

Unfortunately, like many before him, Penny was not able to fulfill his potential and that's what makes him one of the greatest what-if players in NBA history.

Like many of his colleagues, Penny decided to go into coaching. This March the University of Memphis has agreed to a deal for former Tigers star Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway to become the school's next coach. Hardaway would replace Tubby Smith, who was fired after just two months earlier this season.

Hardaway became the school's 19th coach and the third alumnus to lead the men's basketball program. Hardaway agreed to a three-year contract, according to one person directly involved with the negotiations. The university did not release any information related to Hardaway's contract.

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