Top NBA prospect Wiseman fighting NCAA ruling that he's ineligible to play for Memphis

Memphis centre James Wiseman has a temporary restraining order to play while the heralded freshman fights an NCAA ruling that he's ineligible to play for coach Penny Hardaway and the Tigers.

Centre, No. 1 recruit receives temporary restraining order to play

Memphis freshman James Wiseman, seen above in April, received a temporary restraining order to play after he was ruled ineligible by the NCAA on Friday. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The feel-good season for No. 14 Memphis plunged into uncertainty Friday after the school said second-year coach and former NBA star Penny Hardaway gave more than $11,000 US to the family of top prospect James Wiseman, who got a court order allowing him to play while the university tries to restore his NCAA eligibility.

Memphis issued an extraordinary statement less than an hour before the Tigers played Illinois-Chicago at home, saying Wiseman was going to be kept out of games based on interpretation of a rule by the NCAA until the temporary restraining order obtained by Wiseman's attorney Leslie Ballin late Friday afternoon.

"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 statement said.

The 7-foot-1 Wiseman was on the court Friday night for the national anthem and introduced with the starting lineup. Wiseman scored 17 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had five blocks in a 92-46 win.

The NCAA declined to comment after Ballin announced that Wiseman had been ruled ineligible at a late afternoon news conference in Memphis. But the NCAA tweeted out a statement Friday night with Wiseman playing.

"The University of Memphis was notified that James Wiseman is likely ineligible," the NCAA wrote on Twitter. "The university chose to play him and ultimately is responsible for ensuring its student-athletes are eligible to play."

President M. David Rudd said in the university statement that Memphis will accept responsibility for proven violations of NCAA bylaws but also "firmly supports James, Coach Hardaway and our men's basketball program" in this case. Rudd said Memphis supports Wiseman's right to challenge the NCAA ruling.

"Particularly given the unique circumstances in this case, we are hopeful for a fair and equitable resolution on James' eligibility," Rudd said.

School says it didn't know

Memphis said Wiseman — the potential No. 1 pick in the NBA draft next June — was declared eligible by the NCAA in May but further details and investigation by the university and the NCAA found Hardaway gave $11,500 in moving expenses to help Wiseman's family move from Nashville to Memphis in the summer of 2017.

The university said Wiseman didn't know about the money given to his family.

At the time, Hardaway was the coach of East High School. Wiseman was a standout junior, helping Hardaway win his third straight Tennessee Class AAA title before being hired by Memphis as head coach at his alma mater in March 2018.

Wiseman committed to Memphis and Hardaway again in November 2018, the top player in what wound up the nation's No. 1 recruiting class for Hardaway.

Resounding debut

The freshman did not play in either of Memphis' exhibition games with a right ankle injury. But he scored 28 points and had 11 rebounds Tuesday night in a 97-64 win over South Carolina State.

New athletic director Laird Veatch says Memphis will co-operate and be respectful and professional dealing with the NCAA while "availing ourselves of every resource" in the best interests of their student-athletes, coach and university.

"It is clear to me in my short time here that Memphians will stand up and fight, both for each other and for what is right, and I am proud to stand with them," Veatch said.

Memphis had its 2007-08 season vacated by the NCAA, which included a national runner-up finish and a school-record 38 wins, when Derrick Rose was declared academically ineligible.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.