The highly anticipated No. 1 recruiting class by Memphis could lose its top prospect.
James Wiseman, a 7-foot-1 star who some have pegged as the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, was declared ineligible by the NCAA, according to Wiseman’s lawyers on Friday.
The NCAA has deemed Memphis coach Penny Hardaway a booster for his role in financially assisting Wiseman and his family’s move to Memphis from Nashville when Wiseman was in high school in 2017, before Hardaway became head coach at Memphis in the spring of 2018.
Wiseman’s attorney, Leslie Ballin, announced the stunning news Friday evening, a little more than an hour before Memphis was set to play Illinois-Chicago at FedExForum. Ballin said a Shelby County court judge ruled to put a hold on the NCAA’s ruling, pending further litigation and Wiseman will be eligible to play Friday night.
“The University is currently working with the NCAA staff to restore his playing status, and we are hopeful for a speedy resolution to the matter,” Memphis said in a statement.
According to the release, Memphis said Wiseman was initially declared eligible in May 2019. But after several months of interviews, and a review of documentation, it was determined that in the summer of 2017, while Wiseman was a high school student, Hardaway provided $11,500 in moving expenses to assist the Wiseman family in their relocation to Memphis without Wiseman’s direct knowledge.
“Particularly given the unique circumstances in this case, we are hopeful for a fair and equitable resolution on James’ eligibility,” Memphis president M. David Rudd said in a statement. “We support James’ right to challenge the NCAA ruling on this matter. The University of Memphis has high standards of ethical conduct for all faculty, staff and students, and we take seriously any allegations or conduct that is not aligned with our mission. We will acknowledge and accept responsibility for proven violations of NCAA bylaws. The University of Memphis firmly supports James, coach Hardaway and our men’s basketball program in this matter.”
Ballin said the NCAA sent a letter informing Memphis of Wiseman’s ineligibility on Nov. 5, the same day Wiseman scored 28 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Memphis’ season-opening win over South Carolina State.
Wiseman was the centerpiece of Memphis’ star-studded No. 1 recruiting class Hardaway signed this past offseason. While Memphis would still be stocked with plenty of talent, Wiseman, at 7-1, presented the ultimate matchup nightmare for teams and made the Tigers a popular pick to win the American Athletic Conference this season.
If Wiseman misses the entire season, Memphis should still be a contender, but it raises the chances for more experienced teams like Houston, Cincinnati and Wichita State to win the conference this season. Memphis and Houston were co-favorites to win the AAC in the preseason coaches’ poll.
Wichita State will want to pay particular attention if Wiseman is issued a game suspension since the Shockers host Memphis in the second AAC game of the season on Thursday, Jan. 9 at Koch Arena. That would be 13 games away on the Memphis schedule with the return trip for the Shockers coming in the second-to-last AAC game on Thursday, March 5 at FedExForum.