NCAA Says Memphis’ James Wiseman Is ‘Likely Ineligible,’ Head Coach Penny Hardaway Plays Him Anyway

Head coach Penny Hardaway will continue to play Wiseman.

Memphis Tigers star freshman and the potential #1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, James Wiseman, has been declared ‘likely ineligible’ by the NCAA. But Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway plans to play his big man anyway. 

That’s the quick version of where we are. 

News broke last Friday (November 8) that Wiseman was ruled ineligible, even though The Commercial Appeal reported that Wiseman was ruled ‘likely ineligible before the season began on November 5th. 

Wiseman and his lawyers received a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the NCAA’s decision from a Memphis court on Friday, which the university deemed sufficient enough to allow him to play in a game that night against Illinois-Chicago. 

This is where we are with the NCAA and its member institutions. It’s absurd. 

The NCAA is not a lawmaking entity or body. It’s a member organization with bylaws.

But in order to challenge these bylaws, not actual federal or civil law, you have to go to a court and seek a TRO. 

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The issue stems from a 2008 donation that Penny Hardaway made to the University of Memphis, his alma mater, for $1 million dollars. The money was used to fund the Penny Hardaway Hall of Fame. 

That donation makes Hardaway a booster, according to the NCAA’s bylaws. Again, an arbitrary set of rules. 

Fast forward to 2017 and Hardaway gave Wiseman’s mother $11,500 to cover moving expenses for her and the family to relocate to Memphis. Wiseman then was able to play for Hardaway at East High in the 2017-18 season. 

You can clearly see a conflict here, right? 

But this would be a Tennessee high school athletic problem. This was widely known and reported, and Wiseman did face eligibility issues his junior season at East, but was ruled eligible by December of that season.

In the spring of 2018, Hardaway became head coach of his alma mater. Less than a year later he received a verbal commitment from Wiseman. 

Again, you can see the conflict. But Wiseman was the #1 recruit for that 2019 class, thus already on the NCAA’s radar. 

The University of Memphis issued a statement:

James was declared eligible by the NCAA in May 2019. However, based on information that necessitated a deeper investigation, the University began to work alongside the NCAA in investigating the matter. After several months of interviews and, after a review of documentation, it was determined that in the summer of 2017, while James was a high school student and prospective student-athlete, Penny Hardaway provided $11,500 in moving expenses to assist the Wiseman family in their relocation to Memphis, unbeknownst to James.

Particularly given the unique circumstances in this case, we are hopeful for a fair and equitable resolution on James’ eligibility,” stated University of Memphis President M. David Rudd. “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. The University of Memphis firmly supports James, Coach Hardaway and our men’s basketball program in this matter.

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The heart of the matter appears to be, was this an orchestrated plan by a booster (Hardaway) all along?

Wiseman’s legal team will challenge the NCAA’s bylaws that uses vague language when describing a booster and how long one possesses booster status. 

Either way, it’s safe to say the NCAA didn’t just find out about this a couple weeks ago. 

As the #1 recruit Wiseman was already on their radar and they likely knew of the move in high school to Memphis. 

Why did they wait to declare him ‘likely ineligible’ and will they punish Memphis?

Regardless, Hardaway says Wiseman will continue to play. 

"I can't talk about [the NCAA ruling]," said Hardaway. "But he will continue to play."

Stay tuned.

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