In his first media availability since the University of Memphis declared star center James Wiseman ineligible to play, Memphis Tigers head coach Penny Hardaway expressed his sympathy for his player and their family. But are there any regrets about the legal maneuvers it took to get him on the court?
“Not at all,” Hardaway flatly responded.
Hardaway spoke to media on Friday afternoon, just over 24 hours after Wiseman withdrew his lawsuit against UofM and the NCAA and less than 24 hours before the team plays Alcorn State in the first of who knows how many games without Wiseman. Wiseman himself was not made available for comment.
After playing Wiseman in two games while his eligibility was still in question, the University is now in alignment with the NCAA in working to get Wiseman cleared to play. A penalty is expected for the games Wiseman played, but no one is sure exactly what the outcome will be.
“We haven’t heard anything,” Hardaway said. “That’s what we’re waiting on. That’s the biggest problem. We want to know. But until we find out, the other guys are more than ready to go.”
The legal drama can be so enthralling that it can be hard to forget that at the center of it is a teenager, albeit one in a 7-foot body. Hardaway has not.
“Obviously, as an 18-year-old, there has to be a lot going through his head,” Hardaway said. “People he thought was on his side, (who he thought would look at him as) ‘I’m just a kid . . . he’s finding out it’s a very harsh world. People have a job to do. I’m sure that could get him down a little bit.
“All James wants to do is play basketball,” Hardaway said. “James is a very brilliant kid. He understands what’s going on. But it hurts.”
On the court, Hardaway indicated that players like Lance Thomas and Isaiah Maurice will need to step up in Wiseman’s absence.
“(Against Oregon) we played Precious (Achiuwa) at the 5, and we really don’t want to do that,” he said. “We want to keep Precious at his regular position. As far as everyone else, it’s next man up. As a collective crew, we’ll have to do it as a team, not individually.”
As far as recruiting, Hardaway believes standing with Wiseman will make his program more attractive.
“I think it helps, because (recruits) know I’m with my guys, I have my guys back,” he said. “That’s one thing I think has been lost in this whole thing.”
It hasn’t been lost on Achiuwa, who said the team has grown tighter through the ordeal – and gained even more respect for their former NBA All-Star coach.
“I haven’t even told coach this . . . but (how he’s handled this) gives us another level of trust,” Achiuwa said. “Knowing this dude is going to fight for you any time, any day, no matter what. It’s just amazing knowing this dude is going to have your back, no matter what, no matter how hard the times are.”
But has the whole ordeal dampened Hardaway’s spirit? He shrugged and laughed.
“No, no, no, no . . . that’s one thing you’ll never see from me,” Hardaway said. “We see the situation. All I want to do is coach at my alma mater – in this city I love, a school I love. All James wants to do, all the boys want to do is play basketball. That’s pretty much all we want to do.
“I’m getting through it,” Hardaway said. “This too shall pass.”
The Memphis Tigers play Alcorn State at FedExForum on Saturday, Nov. 16. Tipoff is at 1 p.m.