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‘Penny’ Hardaway, Methodist University Hospital team up for youth basketball venue

For months, former NBA and University of Memphis star Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway scoured the city looking for places where kids could play basketball and learn life skills.

First there were the school gyms and then the church gyms.

Now the 6-7 Hardaway can hang his size 14 basketball shoes in one gym.

Methodist University Hospital announced Tuesday it is teaming with Hardaway and his youth sports training program, Penny’s FastBreak Courts, letting him use its seldom-used gym inside Wilson Hall at Eastmoreland and Claybrook.

FastBreak Courts is part of the Gameday Healthy Kids Foundation, which helps developing athletes and underprivileged children by teaching them life skills.

“It is so hard to travel from gym to gym every day. Just to have a building is so important,” Hardaway said. “I can now spend more time working with kids, and less time worrying about places to play.”

Since Methodist Healthcare closed its School of Nursing program in 2003, the school’s gym has largely gathered dust except for the occasional employee recognition events.

Starting in January, hospital assistant administrator Jeshahnton Essex said workers installed a new roof, replaced sections, refinished the basketball court, added six new basketball goals, a new digital scoreboard, repainted and added padding to the walls.

Methodist and Gameday paid about $250,000 for the renovations.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am,” said Methodist Healthcare president and CEO Gary Shorb.

Hardaway said he is still hopeful of breaking ground this year on Penny’s FastBreak Courts Sportsplex in Cordova next to Gameday’s First Tennessee baseball complex.

The $20 million facility would house seven basketball courts, including a 2,000-seat arena, a rehabilitation clinic and classrooms for tutoring. The facility also would be used for volleyball, wrestling, cheerleading and other indoor sports.

Hardaway plans to continue using the hospital gym after the Cordova facility opens.

In his program, Hardaway and others work with about 10 teams, ranging from second-graders to juniors in high school. He’s expecting about 1,200 boys and girls in the program this summer.

“I want to give them what I had,” he said. “I want to give them a fighting chance.”

During Tuesday afternoon’s ceremony, Lester Middle School basketball coach Desmond Merriweather and his Lions sat on the side right behind Hardaway and Methodist Hospital officials.

“This is the same hospital where they diagnosed me for cancer. They gave me 24 hours to live. This is the same place he came to visit me at,” Merriweather said of Hardaway, his longtime childhood friend.

“Now with this gym — I think it is great for the entire city. It couldn’t have been more fitting.”

Merriweather pointed to the gym wall and the motto “All for One. One for all. All for Memphis.”

“That’s our motto, except we say ‘Lester.’ ”

Robert Thomas, Lester team manager, pointed to something else. “The first thing I noticed is my uncle’s name up there, ‘Home of Team Penny,’ ” he said.

“He has never forgotten where he came from,” said Methodist University Hospital chief executive officer Kevin M. Spiegel.

SOURCE: http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2012/apr/25/new-home-court-has-its-advantage/

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