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Penny Hardaway is coaching middle school hoops, and there was a 200-person near-brawl at one of his games

Feb 7, 2013, 7:41 PM EDT

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Penny Hardaway is a four-time NBA All-Star, as you know, who last played for the Miami Heat in 2007. He’s now part of an ownership group that just bought the Memphis Grizzlies, and he’s also coaching … at the middle school level.

Hardaway is coaching Memphis (Tenn.) Lester Middle School, filling in for a friend who is battling cancer. And should you not think this is a big deal in Memphis, guess again: the games are played before capacity crowds in high school gyms, and in the playoffs the games are streamed live online and they sell t-shirts in the lobby for $12.

Things can also get pretty intense. In the semifinals of the Memphis Interscholastic Athletic Association small school division middle school tournament recently, Hardaway’s coaching staff (yes, middle school teams have coaching “staffs”, apparently), got into a shouting match with coaches from the opposing team, and a near-fight broke out, with more than 200 fans rushing onto the floor. From the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

An assistant coach for Hardaway’s team started yelling toward the opposing bench. That coach, himself a recent recipient of a technical foul, crept toward midcourt. The players shuffled toward the coaches. The officials blew their whistles, but it was too late: The two sides met at halfcourt, shouting at each other, while the 200 or so fans in the dimly lit gymnasium spilled onto the floor to join a sure melee.

Policemen sprinted in and prevented the worst. A quick conference with the officials resulted in the game being called; those final seconds just weren’t worth the risk. An officer escorted Hardaway and his team to its locker room.

There’s no indication from the story that Hardaway was involved, or that any punches were actually thrown. But holy cow. Youth basketball in Memphis … intense.