Two years ago, top high school hoops prospect James Wiseman moved from Nashville to play for Penny Hardaway, then the head coach at East High School.
And on Tuesday, Wiseman announced he will play for Hardaway again – as he declared his intent to attend the University of Memphis next fall.
“After long consideration, I will be attending the University of . . .” Wiseman’s voice trailed off, as he rummaged for a stuffed unicorn doll adorned in Tiger blue. “The University of Memphis.”
A packed East High School auditorium exploded with glee as Wiseman’s announcement was broadcast live on ESPN. And the long pause while he reached for the toy might have provided the only suspense. Moments before the announcement, an ESPN anchor asked Wiseman how many people knew what his decision would be.
“Most likely everybody in the City of Memphis,” Wiseman replied sheepishly. “Everybody knows my decision, almost across the world, so . . .”
Wiseman had his choice of elite college programs. Among his final candidates were Kansas, Vanderbilt, Florida State and Kentucky.
Wiseman, a 6’11” 210-pound center, said he chose Memphis because he believes the coaching staff is better equipped to get him NBA-ready than any other college staff in the nation. Before attending East High, Wiseman played for Ensworth Independent School in Nashville, but also played for Hardaway’s AAU team, Team Penny.
At press time, Hardaway had yet to make an official comment on the announcement. But the day before Wiseman’s announcement, Hardaway artfully dodged questions about any new signings. When asked if he planned on signing any other players during this early signing period, Hardaway chuckled.
“I hope so,” he said with a smile that said more than he could. “I’m praying that we do. I’m praying that we do. Yeah, I’m praying that we do.”
Not surprisingly, Hardaway could speak more freely before he became a college coach. In Dec. 2017, he offered his thoughts on Wiseman’s game to The Lexington Herald-Leader.
“He has a very high ceiling, first of all,” Hardaway said at the time. “He’s got a little bit of Chris Bosh in him. And then someone said, like an old-school Sam Perkins kind of game. Those are two guys that if you’re mentioning their names, it’s high praise.”
The hits keep coming for Hardaway and the Tigers. Last week, the Tigers secured commitments from DJ Jeffries and Malcolm Dandridge, both of whom played for Hardaway at East.
And what was the deal with that unicorn? It could be a sign that the big signings for Memphis might not be over. Wiseman and a handful of other top recruits have taken to calling themselves “the unicorn fam” and have expressed a desire to play together. Other members of the “fam” include RJ Hampton (Texas) and Trendon Watford (Ala.), with whom Wiseman has become close.
What Wiseman’s recruitment means to Memphis and UofM can’t be understated. Tiger basketball has always been a great unifier, especially when the team is talk of the town. The announcement was even sweeter for Tigers fans who enjoy sticking it to current Kentucky coach John Calipari. Hardaway’s arrival has now lured both Jeffries and Wiseman from Calipari and Kentucky.
“We don’t get every kid,” Calipari said. “We get the ones that we’re supposed to get, and it just kind of plays out that way, it always has.”