San Ysidro teammates Mikey Williams and JJ Taylor’s committing to play for Memphis next season would have been the biggest recruiting heist in college basketball two years ago. But for a variety of reasons, Penny Hardaway’s track record with one-and-done phenoms at Memphis has been worse than the now-defunct Donda Academy’s. Hoops stars don’t leave Memphis as frustrated as they do Kanye’s unaccredited high school, but it’s a close second.
Much of the blame doesn’t fall on Hardaway, which is probably why the blue chip recruits keep rolling in. Yet, no coach has repeatedly found himself in the inauspicious position Memphis has over the last four years. The other elephant in the room is the plummeting stock of Memphis’ newest recruits and the parallels to the stunted developments of their most recent one-and-downs.
In 2019, Hardaway came roaring out of the gates with a top-5 class headlined by five-star bigs James Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa. Wiseman, the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a senior, played only seven games before announcing his departure. Wiseman had been playing up to the lofty standards set for him, but off-the-court drama involving payments made by Hardaway to Wiseman’s family for moving expenses led to him putting college hoops in his rear-view mirror.
One year after becoming the first sophomore to be named the Gatorade National Player of the Year, Emoni Bates reclassified to play at Memphis a year early alongside Jalen Duran. While Duran wound up getting drafted in the lottery, Bates averaged 9.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and found the rim more often than the net.
Unfortunately, the projections for Williams and Taylor have been trending downward for multiple years. Mikey Williams has already been a freshman phenom with over one million Instagram followers before beginning high school playing alongside AAU teammate Bronny James. Overall, he was considered the top player in their class as an eighth grader. Williams’ twitchy athleticism and preternatural scoring touch have been a staple of his game for years and basketball insiders have observed him since he was a pre-teen. Yet, what Williams’ upside is remains one of prep hoops’ biggest enigmas.
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During his freshman season at San Diego’s San Ysidro High School, Williams set multiple California freshman records en route to being named MaxPreps Freshman of the Year. Since then, Williams has transferred multiple times and returned to San Ysidro for his senior year.
He’s a social media hoops heavyweight, but his one-dimensional game and only one inch of growth since middle school have submarined his value as an undersized combo guard. In 247 Sports’ Composite Rankings, Williams has fallen to 23rd while ESPN dropped him to 30th and removed a star from his five-star rating. Williams’ social media fame has outpaced his game. He’s never been a part of USA Basketball, passed up opportunities to participate in FIBA events that could give a better idea of how he stacks up compared to his peers.
However, Instagram popularity doesn’t always translate to Division I hoops. Bates’ problem was his father’s meddling, meager athleticism, strength due to him being thinner than a 90s mo and his overrated jumper.
Williams will be joined at Memphis by his San Ysidro teammate JJ Taylor. Taylor, recently left Donda Academy after the program was essentially scuttled overnight. The 6-foot-8 forward has the prototypical size for a forward and was once ranked top-five across all major recruiting ranking platforms. As of Nov. 6, he’s 45th on Rivals and ESPN and 117th in 247 Sports’ ranking. Like Bates’, Taylor was viewed as a KD-clone. Given his current trajectory he may be closer to Bates’ ceiling than KD’s stratosphere.
Bates’ freshman year was so disappointing it left a scuff mark on the Memphis program that nearly cost Hardaway his job, which makes Williams and Taylor’s commitments so monumental. It signifies that Memphis is still a hotspot for big name recruits with questionable games.
The implosions of Bates and Wiseman didn’t deter Williams and Taylor from committing there for next season, but it will make Memphis’ 2023 team the most hit-or-miss powder keg in college basketball.