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A year as a Prop 48 athlete is humbling, but Anfernee Hardaway made the grade

Anfernee Hardaway may have been the best high school player in the country when he graduated from Treadwell High in Memphis in 1990. But he sat out last season at Memphis State because he was admitted under the guidelines of NCAA Bylaw 5-1-(j), the controversial measure better known as Proposition 48. According to the 1990 Knight Foundation Report, 86.5% of the football and basketball players who have been affected by Prop 48 during the last three years are black. For the most part, these athletes have been unfairly labeled as intellectually inferior. Yet behind every Prop 48 athlete, there is a story, one that too often goes undiscovered.

He comes to the field house alone, while his fellow students rest. Sunday afternoon sunlight, filtering through dusty windows high above, seems to transmute the old wooden court into gold. Anfernee Hardaway moves lightly across the floor. He retrieves a stray basketball; his expression suggests that of a paleontologist scrutinizing a fossil.

His hands slide over the ball's leather surface, checking the grip and the depth of the seams. He hefts it, estimates the circumference to be true, pronounces the ball authentic and bounces it, the report of the bounce echoing throughout the empty Mid-South Coliseum, then the home of the Memphis State Tigers. The night before, the Tigers played a game on the same floor. Hardaway sat in the crowd. The only reason he is on the court now is to go one-on-one with a visiting writer who wants to see what Hardaway can do. The player seems confident. Most teenagers are.

"To 10. By ones," says the writer.

"Not 15?" Hardaway asks, disarmingly. "O.K. Any way you want. Show me whatcha got."

The writer shoots. Swish.

"Good shot," says Hardaway.

"You're just rusty," the writer chides.

"Not really."

"You are and you don't even know it," the writer says as he shoots again.

"Short," Hardaway predicts.


Hardaway gets the ball, lolls his head to the side, then ladles a dribble behind his back, wraps it around, goes between his legs, back and forth—whap...whapwhapwhap—reverses, spins, crosses over, hesitates, changes pace. His adroitness is noteworthy because Hardaway is 6'7". No one so tall this side of Magic handles the ball this effortlessly on the move and under duress. Hardaway explodes into a whirlybird reverse jam, hanging like a banner from the rafters.

The writer hand-checks and hip-checks—anything to push Hardaway's willowy body away from the rim.

"Is this NBA three-point range?" Hardaway asks.

"No. This is farther."

Hardaway hoists a shot as the writer lunges for the block. No harm, no....

"And one," Hardaway says as the ball drops through the net.

He prepares again. "Memphis State is in desperate need...."


"The clock is winding down...."


"Left hand...."



"Maybe I'll stay out here...."

"Check, kid," says the writer. "Just so I can touch it again."






"Ten-one," Hardaway says. "Shouldn't have let you get one, should I?"

Hardaway played at Treadwell High, where as a senior, in 1989-90, he was the best schoolboy player Memphis had produced since, well, 1987-88, when the local courts were ruled by Todd Day, now a star at mighty Arkansas. There are 43 high schools in greater Memphis, which encompasses Tennessee's Shelby County and a chunk of northwestern Mississippi. Those schools feed a conference's worth of universities with talented players. "In Memphis, the kids never stop playing," says Nolan Richardson, the coach at Arkansas.

Memphis State's roster barely has room for any out-of-towners. Hardaway was the cream of a bumper hometown crop in the spring of 1990, and he seemed sure to become the best freshman since, well, you name him. Yet last season, he was much more an average college student than a basketball star who entrances nearly everyone who watches him perform.

"Anfernee can absolutely do it all—drive, post up, handle the break, play defense," said Craig Esherick, the Georgetown assistant coach who recruited Hardaway for the Hoyas. "Going one-on-one with Anfernee is no way to stay healthy."

"We almost got him," says Richardson. "Oh, if we had."

"I love him," says Larry Finch, the Memphis State coach who, of course, got Hardaway, who is known to his friends and family as Penny. "The pressure was great to keep Penny here in Memphis. We need the attraction. But he needs us more."

Anfernee Hardaway is a Prop 48.

This is why last winter he could only play by himself, or with friends, but not practice with his Tiger teammates. "I can hoop with anybody you name," he said quietly back then. "But I could not pass that ACT. I took it four times. I think I did better each time. But not good enough. I'm taking 17 credits this semester. But...."

But 17 credits is not why he is expected to help fill 22,000 seats this season in the Tigers' new arena, the Great American Pyramid. Mid-South Coliseum, the Tigers' old lair, holds 11,200; Hardaway will make it obsolete. And 22,000 people don't come to watch study hall, baby. The NBA doesn't award multimillion-dollar contracts to All-Study Halls, either. There's a certain reasonableness to this, but the logic of it is shortsighted. It's precisely the kind of thinking that many athletically talented teenagers—particularly black athletes—find all too appealing. And that ultimately entraps them.

"We won the gold medal for the South team at the Olympic Festival last summer," Hardaway says. "I gave Shaquille O'Neal a no-looker on the break. I le tore down the rim. They all said, 'Ooo!' The passing, I do best. I see things.

"But people think I'm dumb. I get it from both sides. Some people here—but brothers from the 'hood do it, too. I went over to this girl's house. A guy came in and said, 'Oh yeah, you that dumb ballplayer.' He's known for selling cocaine. But I'm the dumb one, right?

"Dale Brown coached me at the Olympic Festival. He said he had thought I was wild, out of control. I guess that's because I'm Prop 48. Later he told me he was wrong. Coach [Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and of the 1990 U.S. national team] didn't even bother to speak to me. I can hoop with anybody he has. [Alonzo] Mourning, I would love to play against him. Give him a ball fake in the lane. He's going to go for it. But I can't. Not right now."

Is that bad, Penny?

"I don't know...yet."

Memphis State opened its doors in 1912 as the Western Tennessee State Normal School. The athletic teams' first nickname was the Teachers. In '57, that nickname was changed to the Tigers (the school's name had been changed to Memphis State College in "27), and in the ensuing years the basketball team wandered far from the educational standards that were implicit in its original moniker. In fact, under Dana Kirk, who coached the Tigers from '79-80 through '85-86, Memphis State came to exemplify the ills of college basketball: Only six of Kirk's 60 four-year scholarship players earned degrees.

Kirk had a winning percentage of .731, but his two most noted big men, Keith Lee and William Bedford—supposed superstars—have had no impact in the NBA, though Bedford is employed, as a sub, by the Detroit Pistons. Forward Baskerville Holmes eventually made a club team in Finland, so at least he is seeing the world. Andre Turner, a point guard known as the Little General, is currently with the Philadelphia 76ers, his eighth NBA or CBA club in his five pro seasons. Forward Vincent Askew will look to stick with Golden State. He may need a day job soon. None of these players has received a degree.

Kirk was dismissed by Memphis State in 1986, one year after the Tigers went to the Final Four and lost to Villanova. Only two of the 12 players on the '85 roster got their degrees.

Says Charlie Cavagnaro, the athletic director at Memphis State since 1982, "The big rip-off was our rationalizing that we had been giving those kids a chance to go to college. That was a crock. We finally came to the conclusion that we had to try and graduate them. Race is usually seen as a factor in most things in life, and basketball isn't an island. But if we hadn't changed, we would be exactly what people said we were."

Gina Pickens came to Memphis State as academic counselor for football and basketball players on Nov. 1, 1987, after a 10-year teaching career at Memphis's Central High. She was given a small room and a desk to start with. "I would tell the kids we were getting a new facility where they could get together and do the work. They said, 'Sure, Miss Pickens. Right.' These kids can smell hypocrisy a mile away.

"Since committing our resources, we've graduated eight of 10 basketball seniors," she says. She is speaking from her office at the Center for Athletic Academic Services, a $150,000 set of offices and study areas in the field house. Three counselors—Nancy Carlile, Richard Jones and Pickens—are available to the 350 athletes.

Juniors Billy Smith and Anthony Douglas went to Memphis's East High and were both Prop 48s. Smith is a 6'5" guard of superb physical skill, a genuine NBA prospect. Douglas, a 6'7", 250-pound forward, is the stronger, more controlled player. "I never thought we were dumb," he says, laughing.

The three seniors on the '90-91 team, guards Elliot Perry and John McLaughlin and swingman Russell Young, earned degrees last spring. Most of the credit goes to them, of course, but some must also go to Memphis State. "I'll be proud to graduate from here," says guard Tony Madlock, a senior in the fall. But first he'll play with Penny, as will a 7-foot center named Todd Mundt and a springy 6'5" forward named Ernest Smith, good role players whom Hardaway might make better.

"They all have lives of their own to live, decisions of their own to make," says Finch. "I can't set the priorities for them."

Later, the words of Harry Edwards, a noted University of California sociology professor, come to mind: "What happened is our fault. Parents and teachers have set these kids up, encouraging them to place a higher priority on playbooks than on textbooks. Blacks have allowed ourselves to be moved from the cotton fields to the playing fields."

The sun went orange as it began to dip into a flat horizon on a late-summer day in 1943. The oppressive air was finally cooling as Louise Hardaway walked with her young sons, Lester and John, on the rich black earth beside Arkansas Highway 18, below the Missouri bootheel, four miles east of Blytheville, Ark. She had left the fields, not far from a bend in the sweet river, in which she and the boys had stooped their way through rows of cotton and come up owed $2.50. She might be able to buy—in addition to the sorghum, grits, flour and coffee she needed to feed her family—a small bar of scented soap for her face and neck. She'd scrubbed down the walls of their sharecropper's shack in the dark morning hours, before she took the boys with her and went to work. She was bone-tired now.

She stopped occasionally to pick sunflowers and violets to put in the mason jars she'd boiled. After canning the peaches, apples, pears, beans, okra and figs the Hardaways grew on their rented land, she had a few jars left over. The flowers would add life to the porch of the shack, a so-called tenant house on the Moore brothers' farm that wasn't as ramshackle as many farther south along the Lower Delta. She wasn't only a sharecropper. At some jobs, like cotton picking, she worked free and clear. A chicken, whose neck would be wrung soon, clucked somewhere in the distance. It was Friday. Soon dinner would be simmering in her iron pot and skillet while she bathed in a galvanized tub and massaged her feet. Then she'd wait for her husband, Sylvester. She walked, accompanied by a symphony of crickets. Her back ached. She was five months pregnant with their third child. She'd had the second boy, John, in 1935 and assumed she would have no more. But after all, she was only 19. She wasn't old yet.

"Car come by," says Louise, now 74, mother of four, grandmother of 15 and great-grandmother of nine, sitting in her house in Memphis. Her eyes are failing now, but not that much by her calculations. Her posture is erect, her stomach as flat as a washboard, and she figures she can still walk with the best of them.

"There was three men in it. White fellers. One of them chucked a brick and hit me in my stomach. Felt I was gonna die. Just knew Gloria—that's who I was carrying—was gone. I laid there and said, 'Naw, hell naw.' I wasn't gon' die like no dog on a road." Sylvester, a farmer, came home and found Louise in agony. He said nothing and ran out. He came back in later with bloody fists. He had pounded his hands raw against a tree. It was all he could do. Gloria was born healthy in January, but Sylvester was never quite the same.

From then on, Louise suffered in the fields. The heat made her sick. "The doctor told me to go to the city," she says, "but the city was no more than a notion." In '49, after six more years of sharecropping, the Hardaways worked 10 acres free and clear. They brought home the entire crop of cotton by themselves and sold it, and Louise took the money to Memphis and made the down payment—$365—on the same shotgun house, at 2977 Forrest Avenue, that she lives in today. Louise and Sylvester took their three boys and Gloria across the deep river to Memphis, arriving on New Year's Day of 1950.

She is sitting in the parlor at 2977, a stone's throw from the intersection of Broad and Tillman, a nondescript corner. Across the street, two houses squat in such disrepair that it's a wonder they can stand on their own. Such poverty in the rural Lower Delta is not uncommon, but in Memphis, in 1991, it is stunning.

"See them houses over there?" she asks. "This house was just like that when we first came. You could look down in here and see the ground. Tar paper for walls. Bathroom was a hole. But I decided one day I was going to get it in living condition for me. Not for the king of England, but for me and mine."

Louise began to do daywork in private homes, cooking and cleaning, and one of her best employers was an Episcopalian priest, Father Carrier, who was sympathetic and generous to her, up to a point. One day Louise overheard him talking to someone. "He said, 'Poor Louise. What she wants out of that house, she'll never get.' Don't blame him for sayin' it. But he didn't know me. I made a promise to myself: I said, 'If I live, one day, you won't know it's the same house.' "

Fae Hardaway, the fourth child, was born Nov. 18, 1951, at John Gaston Hospital (now the Regional Medical Center) in Memphis, and as a baby she slept in the beds of those who were the beneficiaries of Louise's day work. Louise and Sylvester parted ways in 1956; he died 19 years later.

In 1965, Louise found work in the Memphis school system, making meals in the cafeterias of elementary schools. In 1970, Fae became pregnant. "Penny was brought here from the hospital, 18 July 1971," says Louise. "Fae was just a child herself. She wanted to name him Golden, after his daddy, Eddie Golden. I said, 'Naw, hell naw. I gave him my name, Hardaway.

"When he was born, his hands were so big, it looked like he was wearing gloves," says Fae, sitting across from her mother in the parlor at 2977. "When I was in school at Lester High, there had been a boy named Anfernee. I always thought it was such a beautiful name. People think I don't know how to spell Anthony. His nickname, Penny? That came from Mama. She called him Pretty, but in the country, that comes out 'Pweddy.' People just took it from there."

Fae went back to school and was a member of the final graduating class of Lester High, in 1972. A couple of years later she got married and struck out for a new life in Oakland. "She wanted to leave Penny with her sister, Gloria," says Louise. "But I told Fae to leave my baby here with me."

Louise never took a sick day while working for the Memphis school system, from 1965 to '78, and has only seen a doctor for routine checkups. "We slept in there, in the bedroom, him in a rollaway bed, from the time they brought him home till his feet hung off the mattress," Louise says. "Penny was six years old 'fo he saw his daddy. It was that long before I saw him myself," Louise says. "He said, 'Let me have him.' I said, 'Naw, hell naw.' Hadn't bought him a diaper, and now you want to be a daddy?"

Louise always kept what little she had immaculate. Across from the squalid row of shanties on the dead-end street, 2977 sticks up proudly—the good finger on a sore hand—but with bars on the windows now. There are a cozy paneled parlor, window dressings, a gorgeous spread on the bed, a bathroom that includes a shower, and a relatively large and well-furnished kitchen worthy of its cook. During the winter the gas jets on the stove are still kept burning all night for heat, but other than that, it's not the same house bought 42 years ago with money from the cotton fields.

Louise tried to keep Anfernee immaculate too. For years, they both went to Early Grove Baptist Church. When Louise was in her late 60's and couldn't quite muster herself, Penny began going by himself. He still does.

"I hope the best for Penny," she says. "Every boy he was raised up with on this street seem like they been in jail, or the workhouse, for robbing and stealing. One of them little boys ended up getting life. For a long time I didn't let him out of my sight. Course, I couldn't pick his friends."

On Sundays it was easy, and during the school year not that hard, but then there was always summer. The house was too small for a growing boy to stay in. And there was nothing on the street but trouble. Anfernee found a welcome place amid the outdoor baskets on the asphalt playground of the Lester school. "I played on those goals eight and nine hours a day, since I was eight years old," he says. "It got to where boys came, played, went home, ate, came back, and I'd still be there playing. Mostly, I played by myself."

For years Louise and Anfernee went along like this, with the Bible usually the only book in the house, the world piped in through the small television set they fell asleep by in the tiny bedroom. Anfernee walked the two miles to Treadwell High, passing the black lawn jockeys on some of the lawns in between. At Treadwell, the faculty and student body were amazed by his basketball skills, but it wasn't until his senior year that his performance in the classroom was scrutinized as closely.

"Believe me, nobody can blame the high schools," says Pickens, who taught and counseled in the Memphis city schools for a decade. "We can fine-tune what's already been started, but it always starts in the home."

And who among us can then criticize Louise, whose great test had been survival itself? She shaped 2977 into a home where a boy could grow healthy and strong and have good manners and be able to learn. Can she, and so many others with similar experiences, be blamed for not having a library?

Soon, Louise's phone began to ring like never before. "Forty, 50 times a day," she says, still marveling.

Recruiters descended like locusts. "They come in smiling at me when they wouldn't have before," says Louise. For a time, Anfernee considered Arkansas. "I heard Arkansas. I said, 'Naw, hell naw,' " says Louise. "I told Penny, 'I got you this far, don't you fail me now.' "

Anfernee considers his grandmother and says, "I don't want what happened to Anthony Douglas to happen to me." Douglas's mother, Christine, died three days before last season began. She never saw her son play college ball, much less graduate.

"Just let him be who he is," says Louise. "I just heard 'bout one of these 11-year-old boys shot hisself 'cause he didn't score but so much on a test. Ain't but one test that count. Ain't that right? I ain't got to be here either. I plan on being here, though. The longer you live, the more you learn. I have slaved. But it paid. I made this home. That's the way you've got to look at life. You've got to make your own."

In his first semester Hardaway earned those 17 credits, largely in remedial courses, with a GPA closer to 3.0 than to 2.0. He earned 15 more credits in the spring, nine this summer and is registered for 15 credits in the fall. It takes 24 credits to qualify for participation in sports under Prop 48 guidelines, and 132 to graduate from Memphis State, so Hardaway will be the star of the show this fall—provided he can rehabilitate his right foot as well as he has his study habits. "Academically, he did an outstanding job," says Pickens.

As for the foot, Hardaway took a bullet in it last April after encountering a robbery-in-progress outside a cousin's home in Memphis. The bullet broke three metatarsal bones and still remains in the foot. After being shot, Hardaway was forced to lie facedown on the wet pavement as the robber pointed a small-caliber pistol at his neck. "I kept thinking, He's going to shoot me in my back, he's going to shoot me in my head," Hardaway said. "I'm glad to be alive." The shooter escaped.

Not surprisingly, Hardaway is still sensitive about his past, about the deprivation around 2977, about his grandmother's dialect, about knowing his mother as Fae, about not knowing his father, about being labeled dumb. He thinks the labels are a hindrance, something he wants to forget now that he has performed on AAU and Olympic Festival teams, stayed in nice hotels, seen his name in big type and been wooed by the clipped speech patterns of recruiters, coaches and alumni.

But Hardaway never wants to forget where he came from. That is what made him. The basketball is how, but 2977 is why. The hotter the fire, the tougher the steel.

In fact, he has many riches—a grandmother, height, a face more than just his mother could love, a good head on his shoulders. Even the squalor of the neighborhood led to a rich practice regimen, dropping the odds of athletic success from 25,000 to 1, to even money. It's 50-50 that Hardaway will be not only an NBA player one day but also an NBA star. "He has a real chance to get them out of there," says Finch of Hardaway's relatives.

Yet even the ones lucky enough to make it to the pros have to be able to count, read and write.

Hardaway's roommate, senior student manager Steve Miller, comes to lock up the gym, ending Hardaway's reverie.

"C'mon. Full court," Hardaway says to Miller and the writer. "That's how I keep shape. I get tired. Then I get a second wind."

He wins again, but this time only 16-14. Hardaway will get the lesson that there's more to life than basketball, how and where and when it occurs to him. And that lesson will have been inspired by Louise, who once walked a dirt road and found strength in a boy who was as pretty as a penny. So 2977 is home, no matter how far from it Anfernee travels.

"Three wishes?" he says. 'I never want to do anything to embarrass my grandmother. I want her to see something. I want her to live."

Anfernee Hardaway goes into the brightly lit rooms marked TIGER ACADEMICS. Billy Smith bops in, followed by a deliberate Anthony Douglas. There is no ball here. Hardaway opens a book of short stories. It is by far his best move of the day. No one is around to cheer it. But somewhere, nearby, an old woman is laughing.