Altered Plans

James Wiseman // Photo by Getty Images

It was not the college career that he expected.

James Wiseman joined the Memphis Tigers as a superstar hyped college freshman. The 18-year-old center wanted to lead Memphis to the NCAA title and then get picked No. 1 in the 2020 NBA Draft. Things went entirely different than expected.

James Wiseman was supposed to bring the Memphis Tigers back to the promised land and help former NBA superstar and now Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway return the program to prominence. But Wiseman’s time with the Tigers lasted just three games and ended abruptly, the consequences of which may end up affected his stock in the 2020 NBA Draft.

The Tigers were ranked 11th in the nation with a 9-1 record on December 19, when Wiseman surprisingly announced on Instagram that he was formally withdrawing from the University of Memphis.

“This was not how I expected my freshman season to be,” Wiseman said.

The move was a surprise because he was due back with the team on January 12 and had already sat out seven of his 12-game suspension. And he showed promise in those games, averaging 19.7 points on 77% shooting.

But that’s all over now and basketball fans will have to wait until the NBA to see Wiseman play again.

Wiseman starred for two years at Ensworth School in Nashville before ending up on Penny Hardaway’s sponsored Team Penny AAU team and then transferring to play for Hardaway at Memphis East high school. While it’s very common for players to change high schools, Wiseman’s move would end up costing him two years later.

Wiseman blossomed under Hardaway’s tutelage into the top big man in his class, and he stayed in Memphis for college as Hardaway had taken over as head coach at University of Memphis in June 2018. And Hardaway had put together an elite freshman recruiting class alongside Wiseman with guards Damion Baugh and Boogie Ellis as well as wings Lester Quinones and Precious Achiuwa.

Hardaway and Tiger Nation were thinking NCAA title but those hopes were dashed a bit on November 8 when the NCAA said Wiseman would “likely” be ineligible. The reason stemmed from Wiseman’s move from Nashville to Memphis because Hardaway provided Wiseman’s family 11,500 dollars to assist with moving expenses. It was a violation because in 2008, Hardaway donated 1 million dollars to his former university, which according to NCAA regulations made him a booster of the program. And boosters are prohibited from giving high school players financial support – even though Tubby Smith was the Tigers head coach at the time.

James Wiseman // Photo by Getty Images

Such cases are not necessarily uncommon. But uncommon was Memphis essentially ignoring the punishment as Wiseman’s attorneys successfully filed for a temporary injunction that allowed him to play after the NCAA announced its investigation into the matter.

Wiseman played on November 8 against UIC and after he played again on November 12 against Oregon, the university reacted and ruled him ineligible. The NCAA ended up suspending him 12 games. Then came Wiseman’s announcement – leaving many wondering why.

For whatever reason, Wiseman is now gone and will look forward to the NBA Draft, where he is one of the most polarizing top prospects in years. Some draft websites list Wiseman in the top five while others have him being selected between No. 10 and 20.

One big reason for scepticism is Wiseman’s skillset does not really match the prototypical one of a franchise player. Centers still are valued lower than wings and there is an abundance of athletic rim-runners.

Sure, he has an excellent physical package at 2.16m with a 2.26m wingspan. But talent evaluators were hoping to see more of him and his decision-making in half-court offenses or how he defended the pick-and-roll, if he could hit from outside after the pick-and-pop and if he could create his own shot.

But all these questions will remain unanswered for now – for better or worse for him. Still, this is not how James Wiseman expected his college career to play out.

by FIVE Magazine #166 – James Wiseman – Text: Torben Adelhardt

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