Scoonie Penn salutes Ohio State fans, says decision to leave was a tough one

Adam Jardy
Scoonie Penn, shown during the TBT tournament last year, is joining the Memphis Grizzlies as an assistant coach. [Adam Cairns]

Scoonie Penn could do a lot during his two years with the title of Ohio State’s director of recruiting and player development.

Inside the locker room after wins, Penn was there leading the Buckeyes in a half-chanted rendition of the “Buckeye Battle Cry.” During Black History Month, Penn’s concept came to fruition when the players wore T-shirts with the names of black inventors during pregame warm-ups for one game. And throughout it all, he was there helping to mentor and develop some young Ohio State teams through tough times.

There was just one thing he couldn’t do, however, and that was serve as an on-court coach. So when that opportunity presented itself this summer in the form of an assistant coaching job with the Memphis Grizzlies of the NBA, it was something Penn pursued until he landed the job.

The decision was a difficult, but one he had to make, Penn told The Dispatch.

“It wasn’t an easy decision at all,” Penn said in a phone interview Tuesday, one day after his hiring was officially announced. “This is home. I went to school there. I’m really good with the program. This is home: family, everything.

“But at the same time, these opportunities don’t come every day. After weighing my pros and cons, this is a good move, a good decision for me and I’m happy with my decision.”

Join the conversation at and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra

The interview process started before the NBA draft, Penn said, and was finalized more than a week before it was announced as the Grizzlies waited to announce coach Taylor Jenkins’ staff in its entirety. In the interim, Penn had to watch the Ohio State alumni team he helped create, Carmen’s Crew, compete in The Basketball Tournament with Jared Sullinger coaching in his stead.

That team played for the $2 million prize Tuesday night in Chicago, and Penn spoke to The Dispatch as he was on his way there to cheer them on. Also expected in attendance is team booster Evan Turner, one person Penn said he spoke with about the possibility of moving to the NBA.

Atop his list of reasons to take the job: the ability to work with players and do it without NCAA-mandated time restrictions.

“I like the thought of that, getting up in the morning and guys are in the gym working out, guys are working on their bodies in the weight room and therapy and staying healthy,” Penn said. “And I can be a part of these things, getting on the court and working with them and building a relationship with the guys and talking to them about life and basketball, as well.”

Penn was hired at Ohio State shortly after Chris Holtmann took over as coach, and in his first performance review Penn let it be known that he was looking to get into an on-court coaching position. When one opened up this spring after Mike Schrage left to become the head coach at Elon University, Penn was viewed as a candidate for the position and helped shoulder some of the responsibilities until a full-time replacement could be named.

The position went to Jake Diebler, who had spent the last three seasons as an assistant coach at Vanderbilt.

“I understood what (Holtmann) wanted and where he was going with that position, and I was OK with it,” Penn said. “I think other people were more in an uproar than I was. Jake’s going to be great for our program. He’s a guy who’s been on the road a lot more and I hadn’t. I get it.”

The position as Penn left it at Ohio State is likely to be tweaked, with more of an emphasis on helping players make connections within the local business community. Being an alumnus is a priority as well, and one source indicated that Terence Dials might be the front-runner for the job.

Penn’s son, Dom, will likely be making the move to Memphis as well for his senior year. A decision had already been made not to play for Dublin Coffman prior to the Memphis job, Penn said, and it’s unclear if his son will attend high school in Memphis or a prep school or academy somewhere in the South. He is a three-star point guard prospect in the composite database.

It’s time for the next chapter.

“Regardless of where you go, where I go, this remains home, and more than anything it’s just the people that make it so great, the support that we as Buckeyes consistently receive,” Penn said. “I’m sure I’ll run into some people that are in Tennessee that are Buckeye fans or somewhere I’m traveling. It never gets old. I’m tremendously grateful for the love and support that I’ve always received. It’s a powerful thing, Buckeye Nation, it really is.”


Listen to the BuckeyeXtra Basketball podcast: