Malcolm Dandridge quietly watches while Memphis fans get introduced to his new teammate, Kaodirichi Akobundu-Ehiogu.
"He's so tall," says one fan to Dandridge, referencing Akobundu-Ehiogu's length.
"Everyone always thinks the skinny guys are taller than they really are," says Dandridge, laughing and pointing to the "Big Dawg" graphic on his 901 Fund-designed shirt. "I'm taller than him."
The big smile is what has made Memphis native Dandridge a fan favorite. But the joke about his fellow front-court teammate has some underlying meaning for Malcolm.
"This is my time," he says. "I've been preparing. I feel like my name is being called. I'm ready. I'm ready to show out."
"This is my time. I've been preparing. I feel like my name is being called. I'm ready. I'm ready to show out."
"It actually helped me a lot at an early age, I learned to play with a lot of great guys so coming into going into college, it was less about my ego. These guys were all great players and athletes, so I think that's what really helped me give me an edge to work with people just as good or better as me.”
Coming out of high school there are many achievements Dandridge says make him proud.
His East High School team won the state championship in 2017 and 2018 and finished runner up in 2019. Dandridge received a four-star rating from every recruiting service, rating the Memphis big man as one of the top big men in the state.
But there is one more achievement, Dandridge says, people forget about.
"I was first," he says. "When (Penny Hardaway) left my senior year (to become the coach at Memphis), I was the first commitment.
"I wanted to commit early because I already knew what type of coach (Hardaway) was, and what type of program he wanted to build so I was already locked in."
What followed Dandridge's commitment was Penny's requirement of some of the top frontcourt players in all of college basketball.
In his first year, there was his high school teammate and eventual lottery pick James Wiseman.
The following year, first-team AAC forward and now Toronto Raptor superstar Precious Achiuwa.
And then, for his first year as an upperclassman, he shared time with budding NBA-star Jalen Duren.
For three straight years, Dandridge played alongside a starting NBA forward, all while battling multiple injuries.
"Jalen, James and Precious — they are all very talented," he says. "It was fun learning from them and playing beside them.
"To be able to play alongside someone else and have them bring you up to their level and get better, that's a blessing. We were able to make each other better that's the most fun part of the whole thing."
With the Tigers poised to make a deep run into the NCAA tournament, Dandridge is set to be a critical player in the Memphis front court.
Before his ankle injury in December against Alabama, Dandridge had been one of the Tiger's most productive players, averaging more than 6 points and 4 rebounds in just 15 minutes per game.
Against No. 2 ranked Alabama, Dandridge was the physical presence the Tigers needed, grabbing 8 boards and 7 points before going out with an ankle injury in the second half.
"I always try and stay positive," Dandridge says. "Right now, we feel the pressure, but it's a good thing. It's a blessing. I always try to see the positive aspects of things and just get ready to do my part when my name is called, and I think my name is being called right now."
I"t's love. "That's how I describe it. At the end of the day, I want to make sure people see, that no matter what level you are on, the bond I have with them is important."
It's October and the University of Memphis is preparing its first-ever "Block Party" on campus to celebrate the kickoff of the basketball season.
The event, featuring the men's and women's basketball teams, concludes with an autograph session for fans.
As fans lined up to get their gear signed by both teams, the event's first logistical problem became apparent.
Danddridge made sure he was the first player in the line to sign autographs, taking his time to speak to each fan, and even providing several hugs and selfies.
"We should have known not to put Malcolm first," a university staff member said, observing the long, slowly moving line wrapping around campus.
But his relationship with fans — and the city as a whole — is a big reason why he wanted to stay in Memphis, Dandridge says.
"It's love," he says. "That's how I describe it. At the end of the day, I want to make sure people see, that no matter what level you are on, the bond I have with them is important."
"I want people to know that the game is important, but that bond we have is just as important."
Love, as he calls it, is why Dandridge says his ultimate goal is to play for the city after college.
"The goal is to hopefully play for the Grizzlies, so I can still be local and see children that I know play in high school," he says. "I want to be able to keep that bond. It's really important to me."