Memphis guard turned grad assistant, Willie Kemp, draws from NCAA tournament experience to prepare Tigers

Former Tiger played for Memphis from 2006-2010
Published: Mar. 16, 2022 at 7:19 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Current Memphis players know Penny Hardaway led the Tiger to two NCAA tournament appearances in the 90s. But none of them were born to witness it.

For a Memphis kid like Alex Lomax, he remembered watching Willie Kemp.

“I was eight years old in 2008 and that’s when Willie was in the tournament with D Rose and the special team” Lomax said. “I just always saw the energy he played with and the passion and everything.”

Kemp was a Tigers guard in the mid-to-late 2000s when Memphis basketball was at its peak. Now he’s on the Tigers staff as a graduate assistant coaching the next generation.

“I bleed blue and I wanted to see this team do great things,” Kemp said. “And this team that we have are amazing guys on and off the court and I think they can do big things in this tournament.”

Kemp played on the biggest stage in the 2008 national championship game, but what he remembers more are the relationships he had with his teammates.

When Memphis went to their early season struggles, he leaned on that experience to bring the team together.

“Couple times we just went over his house and just hung out as boys, hung out as brothers, and got to know each other a lot more in those moments,” Lomax said.

Kemp said that was based on what he used to do with his teammates. “[We] took one day out of the week spending time together. Going to the movies, going bowling, just going to the house just chilling, just enjoying life. Getting our mind off basketball,” Kemp said. “I told Alo, our point guard, our leader, I told him to get the guys together to the house and they all came to the house and we just ate wings, watched basketball and took their minds off basketball, on the court. and it was amazing. Ever since that we’ve been on this crazy winning streak.

The Tigers won 12 out of their last 14 games as they head into their first NCAA tournament since 2014. Kemp said the 2007-08 team still talks and he woke up to texts from former teammates telling him to wish the team good luck in the first round.

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