Memphis freshman James Wiseman, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA draft, suited up for the Tigers on Friday night despite being ruled ineligible by the NCAA earlier in the day.
Memphis said in a statement Friday that Penny Hardaway, before he was the Tigers’ coach, provided $11,500 in moving expenses to aid the Wiseman family’s move to Memphis, Tennessee, without the player’s knowledge. The NCAA deemed that Hardaway, a Memphis alum, was a booster at the time, according to Wiseman’s attorney, Leslie Ballin.
However, a Shelby County judge on Friday halted the NCAA’s ruling for the time being, making Wiseman eligible to play Friday night when the No. 14 Tigers hosted Illinois-Chicago.
Wiseman scored 17 points on 4-for-4 shooting to go with nine rebounds and five blocks in Memphis’ 92-46 victory.
The NCAA issued a statement Friday night in response to Wiseman’s appearance in the game, saying, “The University of Memphis was notified that James Wiseman is likely ineligible. The university chose to play him and ultimately is responsible for ensuring its student-athletes are eligible to play.”
Hardaway declined to comment on the NCAA’s statement after the game. Asked why he played Wiseman before the situation had fully resolved, he told ESPN: “That’s just up to the school. We’re just going to go about it legally moving forward. Obviously, James has a right to do what he did, and we’re moving forward from it.”
Memphis said the NCAA had declared Wiseman eligible in May. But months of investigation followed, ultimately revealing the finding of documentation of the moving expenses.
“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,” the school said in a statement.
Wiseman, who was the No. 1-ranked recruit in the 2019 class, moved to Memphis from Nashville in the summer of 2017. He would attend East High School and play for Team Penny/Bluff City Legends on the grassroots circuit — both of which Hardaway coached.
Memphis freshman James Wiseman gets the huge block that sends the ball soaring into the stands.
When Memphis hired Hardaway to replace Tubby Smith in March 2018, Hardaway made Wiseman his top recruiting target in the 2019 class. Wiseman picked Memphis over Kentucky in November 2018.
“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.”
Wiseman, a 7-foot-1 center, had 28 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks in Memphis’ season-opening win over South Carolina State on Tuesday.
He was the centerpiece of Memphis’ No. 1-ranked recruiting class, a group that also included fellow five-star prospects Precious Achiuwa and D.J. Jeffries, ESPN 100 guards Boogie Ellis and Lester Quinones, and in-state guard Damian Baugh. The Tigers started five freshmen in the season opener.
Memphis attracted significant betting interest during the offseason. At Caesars Sportsbook, the Tigers’ odds to win the national title went from 40-1 in May to 8-1 entering the season. Only five teams — Michigan State, Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and Louisville — attracted more money on Caesars’ title odds than the Tigers.
The news of Wiseman’s ineligibility broke roughly 45 minutes before Friday’s game against Illinois-Chicago, and when it was believed Wiseman was out, the line dipped from Memphis -20 to as low as -17. With Wiseman cleared to play Friday, the line settled back at Memphis -20.
ESPN’s David Purdum contributed to this report.