The final bell at East High School rings at 2:15 p.m. While most students are making their way out of the building, the Mustangs boys’ basketball team is preparing for a session with their tutors. It's a game night and East is playing host to Overton, but the players have to make sure they are taking care of business in the classroom beforehand.
“Education is first,” says East coach Penny Hardaway. “We are really big on that over here.” Wednesdays are reserved for ACT prep. Junior forward Radarious Washington echoes Hardaway’s sentiment. “Grades first,” he says of the tutoring sessions, “It’s been going really good.”
There are about four hours between tutoring and tip-off. It used to be idle time. Hardaway, a former Memphis Tiger and NBA all-star, has changed that by transforming the boys’ locker room into a lounge. “I just tried to come in and do some things,” says the first-year head coach. “I wanted to make it a home away from home.”
The upgrades have made it easier on the team. Instead of going home and then coming back to the school, the players have a place to create fellowship and study on campus. “You don’t have to worry about anybody being late,” says senior guard Courtney Carter. “Everybody is already here. You know where everybody is. So if we have to go through a walk-through everybody is here.”
“We can bring food in and they can just kind of lounge,” Hardaway adds.
One of the more notable changes in the locker room is the paint job. It has gone from a dingy white to shiny black and maroon. “The painting was definitely major, because we wanted to get the Mustangs’ colors,” says Hardaway. “You come in here you know where you are. You are in Mustangs Country.”
Part of the renovation included turning the shower area into a meal room by getting rid of the stalls, adding a fresh coat of paint, and moving in tables and chairs. The room doubles as a study hall.
Hardaway had the old lockers taken out and replaced them with smaller ones. They were painted and decals were added with the players' names.
Once the storage area was cleared out, it was transformed into a film/meeting room. In the middle of the locker room is the Mustangs’ logo over a freshly painted floor. Along the walls are flat screen televisions and video game consoles. A high-tech stereo sound system helps keep the atmosphere lively. Hardaway also added black cushioned couches to add to the lounge-like experience.
Mustangs’ senior forward Eric Banks, who also played on the Mustangs football team, takes a video joy stick and plays EA Sports’ Madden Football. “I’m good at it,” he says, “but I wouldn’t say I’m the best.” But playing video games isn’t the most important benefit for Banks. He likes the way the lounge has helped foster a brotherhood among the players. “It gives us a place to bond with each other,” he says, which is exactly what Hardaway wants.
Hardaway reflects on how his coach at Treadwell created a family atmosphere for him and his teammates. “Garmer Currie told us that no one man is bigger than the team,” he says. “We are a family. That is what I’m trying to teach out here.”
He also believes the atmosphere will prepare his players for the next level. “We want to make the environment more like a college,” says Hardaway. “We tried to change the culture because we want all these guys thinking college. We feel like these guys have an opportunity to play (on the college level).”
“It’s getting us ready for the next level,” Banks agrees. “This is how college will be, just a bigger facility. It’s getting us ready for what to expect.”
Hardaway gave the girls’ locker room a remake as well, something East Athletic Director Marcus Wimberly is glad to see. “(The girls) were excited when they saw the finished product,” says Wimberly. “Whatever the boys get the girls should get. It’s good that guys like (Hardaway) give back to the neighborhood, like he does. He does a tremendous job with these kids and they love him for it.”
How much did the renovation cost? “I don’t have any idea,” says Wimberly, “but it wasn’t cheap. They had to do some major work in those locker rooms. It was pretty bad.” Later that night East went out and showed the meaning of family on the court, soundly defeating Overton, 72-24.