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Hustle close book on their first season

Though the team went 21-29, it felt like it ended things on a high note.

The Memphis Hustle held its final media availability for its inaugural season at the Built Ford Tough Practice Facility inside FedExForum Monday afternoon. Five players and the team’s head coach spoke with gathered media about their season and the successes and struggles of G-League basketball.

Dusty Hannahs, Omari Johnson, Kuran Iverson, Myke Henry, Austin Nichols, and head coach Glynn Cyprien spoke on a small range of topics from travel to their facilities and management to the Landers Center, where the team plays in Southaven, Miss., even to Penny Hardaway and the University of Memphis men’s basketball program.

Coach Cyprien was effusive in complimenting his players. The first year G-League coach spoke on the accomplishments of eight of his players, noting that three had already earned professional contracts elsewhere including the team’s first NBA call up, Marquis Teague. Teague signed a 10 day contract with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Hustle’s NBA affiliate, Friday night, while J.J Frazier and Mark Tyndale will be heading out of the country to Italy and Mexico respectively.

Cyprien also praised the convenience of working between the Landers Center and FedExForum. “Biasedly, we have by far the best setup in the G League,” he said. “In terms of just being here [the FedExForum], [our] locker room’s here, our office setup is here. Guys can walk two blocks from where they live, and sleep in their own beds. So I think we’ve got the best setup.”

Others reiterated that sentiment.

“Having access here [the FedExForum], we live like five minutes walking distance,” Johnson explained, “so we can just come in here anytime, workout, use the cold tub/hot tub, get some treatment. It’s been good for our bodies, being able to have something so close.”

For several players, that proximity meant being closer to home as well. Nichols and Iverson both played at the University of Memphis before transferring to the University of Virginia and the University of Rhode Island, respectively.

“Memphis is my home. I was born and raised here,” Nichols said. “It’s always great to be back home around friends and family for sure.”

For Hannahs, who played collegiately at the University of Arkansas, being within the Grizzlies organization was almost surreal.

“My parents are only a two hour drive from me,” Hannahs said. “Sisters only couple hour drive from me. Just being close to family and close to home—playing for the Grizzlies organization—it felt too good to be true at some times.”

The former Tigers, Nichols and Iverson, both expressed excitement at the prospect of Penny Hardaway being the Tigers’ head men’s basketball coach. Iverson went so far as to predict the program will be back in the NCAA Tournament before too long.

“I think [Penny’s] going to do a great job,” he said. “Especially the next two or three years, he’ll probably get into the NCAA tournament. He’s a great guy, great coach.”

But for all the positives, there was no sugarcoating the fact the team went 21-29. Myke Henry, one of the Grizzlies’ two-way players, tried to contextualize the negatives of the season in place with the positives.

“Year one, it was a rough one. But we also learned something in the end,” he said. “I grew as a person and a basketball player on the court.” When prompted to explain what he learned specifically, he said, “how to play. How to cooperate with teammates. And how to listen to coaches and incorporate what they told me my strength and weaknesses are... into my game on the court.”

Coach Cyprien noted that his team may not have started the season the way he wanted, but finished strong.

“The record, obviously 21-29... we’re finishing on a high note,” Coach Cyprien rationalized. “We won the last four out of five. We beat five out of the six teams in the West that’s going to the playoffs, which I think is a huge deal for having the youngest team in the G League this season.”

He went on to say that because the players were able to form solid relationships with each other over the course of the season that that chemistry allowed them to play their best basketball during the final two weeks of the regular season.

“We beat some really good teams. Not only just beat them, but played at a high level. Scored a lot of points. We were unselfish. It started to click in. It’s funny to hear guys say, ‘Coach, we wish we were still playing because now we’ve got it.’ I think a lot of that was because we had a nucleus of guys that had been together and had kind of figured things out. And that’s the big thing with the G League: the teams that keep the guys together the longest are the teams that’s the best. It’s not the guys that get called up all the time that’s the better teams.”

Johnson, a captain along with Teague, was one of those guys who felt like things came together too late. He credited the team’s growth to the stability the roster experienced later in the season, citing the numerous call ups and send downs (like Ivan Rabb, Deyonta Davis, Wayne Selden, and others) early in the season as confusing for the team’s core group of guys.

“We had a lot of guys not knowing their roles,” he said, “and people were young, so it’s hard for them to understand at first how to handle the situation. Towards the end of the year they kind of got rolling when they got more playing time and more minutes to find out their actual roles. So it’s sad it came together late, but its good for the young guys and their careers to understand how to be a pro.”

Every player as well as Coach Cyprien expressed their congratulations to Teague for earning an NBA contract. Hannahs mentioned that Teague quickly became one of his closest friends on the team (“It’s funny—he’s from Kentucky. I’m from Arkansas. You wouldn’t think that could happen,” he joked.), and Iverson highlighted Teague and Johnson’s leadership on and off the court.

“I just seen two leaders that was trying to lead the team the right way,” Iverson said of the thing that stood out most when he joined the team late in the season. “Every night, no matter if they wanted to play or not, they still came out and went 100 percent every time. And that was OJ and Teague. They some great leaders. They help everybody else with confidence.”

Before opening questions up to the media, Coach Cyprien began his session by offering condolences to the Detroit Pistons, Grand Rapids Drive, and family of Zeke Upshaw, who passed away yesterday after collapsing during a game with Grand Rapids this weekend.

With year one in the books, it’s unclear who will return for the Hustle next season. Hannahs and Nichols expressed their interest in staying with the team, while someone like Henry or Teague likely hopes to be playing in The Association next season. Whatever happens, we will continue to bring you the most in depth coverage of the Hustle here at Grizzly Bear Blues.

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