The Memphis East High School basketball team, who won a 2017-18 state championship with Penny Hardaway as its coach and James Wiseman as its star player, is in danger of being stripped of its title because Wiseman and another player were ineligible.
Shelby County Chancery Court Judge Jim Kyle ruled on Oct. 3 that the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s decision to rule Wiseman and Ryan Boyce ineligible in November 2017 did not violate the student’s property rights.
Kyle also wrote in his decision that the court lacked jurisdiction to overturn TSSAA’s decisions because it’s a voluntary organization and the matter didn’t involve fraud, lack of jurisdiction, or the invasion of property rights or interests.
The Shelby County Board of Education, Memphis East principal Marilyn Hilliard, Wiseman’s mother and Boyce and his mother appealed the ruling earlier this month.
TSSAA assistant executive director Matthew Gillespie told ESPN on Wednesday that Memphis East will be ordered to forfeit games in which Wiseman and Boyce played — and vacate the 2017-18 state championship — if the association’s initial ruling regarding Wiseman’s and Boyce’s eligibility is upheld by the court.
“There’s still pending litigation, but if the decision comes out that our rules will be enforced as they initially were, games won while using an ineligible player would be forfeited,” Gillespie said. “Therefore, with a championship game being one of them, a state title game would be forfeited and they’d no longer be crowned state champions.”
Gillespie told ESPN that the TSSAA wasn’t aware that Hardaway provided $11,500 to help Wiseman’s family move to Memphis during its earlier investigation. He said that allegation might constitute a recruiting violation under its rules, which would put Memphis East at risk for additional penalties including probation and monetary fines.
During a deposition on March 28, 2018, Wiseman said he and his mother, Donzaleigh Artis, moved to Memphis to be closer to a family member who was suffering from health issues.
Kyle is the same judge who issued a temporary restraining order on Friday that allowed Wiseman to play for the University of Memphis after the NCAA declared him ineligible because Hardaway provided the $11,500 to help Wiseman’s family move from Nashville to Memphis in the summer of 2017.
The NCAA classified Hardaway as a Tigers booster because he donated $1 million to the school in 2008 to help build the Penny Hardaway Hall of Fame.
Hardaway is in his second season coaching his alma mater.
Wiseman, a 7-foot-1 center who is considered a potential No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA draft, has averaged 19.7 points and 10.7 rebounds in his first three games with the No. 13 Tigers.
On Nov. 15, 2017, the TSSAA declared Boyce and Wiseman ineligible for the 2017-18 season at Memphis East because of the association’s “athletic coaching link” rule, which makes student-athletes who transfer to a new school ineligible if an athletic coaching link existed during the previous 12 months.
After the TSSAA declared Boyce and Wiseman ineligible, the Shelby County School Board of Education filed a petition for a temporary restraining order to allow them to play. On Nov. 29, 2017, Kyle issued an order that allowed them to play until the court resolved the issue.
Wiseman, who was the No. 1-ranked recruit in the 2019 class, transferred to Memphis East from the Ensworth School in Nashville in August 2017 — after he played for Team Penny on the grassroots circuit. Boyce transferred there from Houston High School in Germantown, Tennessee, in April 2017.
Hardaway, a former NBA player, coached at Memphis East in 2017-18, when Wiseman helped lead the team to its third consecutive Class AAA state title. He had 19 points and six rebounds in a 72-50 victory over Whitehaven in the championship game.
Attorneys representing the Shelby County Board of Education and the players have argued that Hardaway wasn’t a coach with Team Penny. They contend that former Arkansas player Todd Day was the head coach.
The TSSAA believed that Hardaway at least helped coach the team. In a motion, the TSSAA’s lawyers wrote that Hardaway provided a practice facility and vans for transportation for Team Penny, allowed his valuable name to be associated with the team, secured a Nike EYBL contract, and coached the team at practices and gave instruction or advice to players on how to improve their play.
In making his decision, Kyle relied on a similar case in which the Tennessee Court of Appeals found that “[t]he ‘coaching link’ rule is not unfair or unjust [and] … is not vague and overboard.”
“Here, based on this reasoning, the Court must find that TSSAA’s ‘coaching link’ is not unfair, unjust, vague, or overboard, and TSSAA correctly applied its rule when it found Coach Hardaway coached Boyce and Wiseman, which made them ineligible for the 2017-18 season,” Kyle wrote in his motion.
When the University of Memphis hired Hardaway to replace Tubby Smith in March 2018, Hardaway made Wiseman his top target in the 2019 recruiting class. Wiseman picked Memphis over Kentucky in November 2018.
Boyce and two other former Memphis East players – sophomore guard Alex Lomax and freshman center Malcolm Dandridge — also play for Hardaway at Memphis.