In Hardaway, Merriweather saw a young leader who was going to make it.
"I want to do something for your kids," Hardaway told the ailing coach.
He'd show up for team practices even before Merriweather arrived. Still weakened from cancer, Merriweather soon delegated his duties. He coached for free, with Merriweather remaining at his side.
But what happened next defies explanation, is beyond description.
A boy playing for his ailing father did something extraordinary.
The doctors had said something about complications.
"The only thing I can remember is waking up," Merriweather says. He attributes his recovery to the power of prayer, although he's still fighting the disease.
"When the doctors gave up on me, I never gave up on myself. I knew I had to come back to my son and my daughter and my wife -- and most of all, my team." He asked God to give him one more chance, to return him to the hardwood floors of Lester Middle. More than anything, he longed to coach his son Nick again.
Among the hospital visitors was his boyhood friend, Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway.
If you wanted to play for him, you had to focus on school. He'd arrive early in the morning, stick his head in the classrooms, make sure his boys were behaving.
He quizzed teachers about the players' progress reports: What areas do they need help in?
Doctors gave the Lester Middle School head coach 24 to 48 hours to live. Larry Peoples -- "a prayer warrior" -- stood at his bedside and bowed his head. Merriweather had returned to his old neighborhood -- gang-infested Binghampton -- to coach basketball.
He'd moved from Jackson, Tennessee, where he'd lived since earning his college degree.
He wanted to mentor middle school kids in the blighted neighborhood, to keep them from going down the wrong path.