James Wiseman’s ascension to the NBA recently meshed with the athletic heights he scaled at East High School, yielding a convergence suited for the retirement of his high school jersey.
“It was crazy,” said Wiseman, putting words to the emotions he felt as he walked inside East for the first time in a while on Monday. “It reminded me of the games I used to play here. It was fun and exciting. It means a lot just being recruited by Memphis and playing with Coach Penny (Hardaway).”
Drafted by the Golden State Warriors as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Wiseman did not return alone for the retirement of his jersey. Accompanied by Golden State teammates, the presence of the 7-foot, 240-pound center footer triggered fond memories.
“I had the pleasure to coach him his junior and senior year,” said East High boys basketball coach Jovente Holmes. “Just to see the strides that he made. We are always talking about his ending goals. This is one of his ending goals, being one of the best to come out of this school.”
The Warriors were in Memphis to take on the Grizzlies at FedExForum this past Tuesday. They lost 116-108 as Memphis racked its 10th straight victory. Wiseman did not play as he continues to nurse a knee injury that dates back to the 2020-21 regular season when he missed the last 19 games.
“He is just a great kid,” said Holmes. “He spoke Mandarin and (was) very smart. He had a 4.5 GPA. He was in the national honor society. He would talk to the nerdiest to the coolest student in school.”
At East, Wiseman anchored two state-championship teams, one coached by Hardaway. Later recruited by Hardaway to the University of Memphis, Wiseman encountered eligibility issues and only played part of one season for the Tigers.
The visit to East was the second time in three years that the Warriors have made a trip to a Memphis-area high school gym. In December 2018, they supported Ian Clark, who was on the Golden State roster when his jersey was retired by his alma mater, Germantown High School.
Although he didn’t make it to the Wiseman jersey ceremony, Golden State head coach Steve Kerr said, “I talked to a few of the guys who were there, and they loved it. They were laughing that many of James’ classmates are still in school and he got his jersey retired.
“It happens fast but he’s such a young guy and it’s great to see him honored in that regard. … Last year, he was getting ready to come to Memphis and I think he was put in quarantine in Houston and didn’t even get to make the trip we had here. So, I’m really happy for him that he’s finally back here.”
University of Memphis center Malcolm Dandridge, who played with Wiseman at East, said, “James and I stay in touch. I am super excited … he came down here. I am happy for him.”
Dandridge’s UofM teammate, guard Alex Lomax, was on the East team that won the state title during Wiseman’s first year at East. With each challenged by injuries over the last year, the two have called one another to keep theirs spirits up.
“I felt good seeing James’ jersey retirement,” said Lomax. “I am happy for him. He is my brother and we have a lot of memories here.”
Wiseman’s injured knee has required two surgeries, the last in December following an April operation.
“His rehab is going really well,” said Kerr. “His knee is feeling really good. His spirits are up and he’s bouncing around practice with high energy. He’s getting ready to play with some contact and it’s exciting just to see a smile on his face and see him back after this long absence.
“I’m thrilled for him and thrilled for us too. … With that size and skill and being such a good, diligent worker, there’s no doubt in my mind that James is going to have a good career.”