The Memphis Tigers impressed the nation with the debut of James Wisemen on Tuesday, with fans far and wide looking forward to seeing his next game.
But Wiseman almost didn’t play in Friday’s 92-46 blowout over the University of Illinois-Chicago. Just hours before tipoff, fans learned that Wiseman had been ruled ineligible by the NCAA. It took a Shelby County judge’s injunction to get the No. 1 recruit on the court for the game.
“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 university said in a statement.
The next court date is November 18. Wiseman can play in all games until then. The NCAA can’t do anything to interfere with the order or they could be held in contempt of court.
However, if the ruling goes against Wiseman, it will mean any game Wiseman played in is forfeited for playing an ineligible player. Translation: these first two blowout Tiger wins would show up as an 0-2 record – and in essence, sink the team’s championship hopes from Day One. And that doesn’t factor in any harsher NCAA penalties.
NCAA statement on James Wiseman: pic.twitter.com/B4hClOQxMj
— Inside the NCAA (@InsidetheNCAA) November 9, 2019
Wiseman and his attorneys are suing the NCAA over his eligibility. While the NCAA declared Wiseman eligible in May, an ongoing investigation revealed that Wiseman received a benefit from a booster in 2017.
That booster was Penny Hardaway, who gave his alma mater $1 million in 2008 to help complete its sports hall of fame.
In its statement, the university indicated Hardaway – still the head coach at East High School at the time – had provided $11,500 to Wiseman’s family for the move. Wiseman himself did not know about the gift, the statement said.
“Particularly given the unique circumstances in this case, we are hopeful for a fair and equitable resolution on James’ eligibility,” UofM President M. David Rudd said in the 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,” Rudd added. “The University of Memphis firmly supports James, Coach Hardaway and our men’s basketball program in this matter.”
An hour before the tip, Wiseman and his attorney Leslie Ballin entered a request for a temporary injunction for Wiseman to play in the game against UIC. That order was granted, and Wiseman was in the starting lineup. His lone remarks on the matter so far were posted on Instagram:
View this post on Instagram
This is not the first time the Wiseman has had eligibility issues. In the fall of 2017, the TSSAA had ruled Wiseman ineligible because he played for Hardaway in AAU.
Wiseman went to court to fight the TSSAA ruling and was able to continue to play with Hardaway in his junior year. They would go on and win a state championship together. Hardaway left East after that season and was later announced as head coach of the Tigers.
Wiseman and Hardaway are at odds with the NCAA over his classification as a booster. Apparently, Hardaway intends to argue that a donation 11 years ago doesn’t make him a “booster” today. The NCAA disagrees. Wiseman is suing because of this interpretation.
The Hardaway-Wiseman situation is not normal and could lead to a new precedent being set. Wiseman was visibly affected by the situation to start the game. His normal happy-go-lucky smile was missing during player introductions.
From Hardaway and his players to the Tiger faithful, many had their sights set on a very special season. The dream could come crashing down with an unfavorable ruling by a court. Since Wiseman is projected to be a top draft pick in next year’s NBA draft, expect him to exhaust all options to stay eligible going forward.