MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — 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 to the family of top prospect James Wiseman, who got a court order allowing him to play while the university tries to restore his eligibility in the eyes of the NCAA.
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 had four points, five blocks and six rebounds as Memphis led 47-16 at halftime.
“Particularly given the unique circumstances in this case, we are hopeful for a fair and equitable resolution on James’ eligibility,” Memphis President M. David Rudd said in the statement. “We support James’ right to challenge the NCAA ruling on this matter.”
Rudd says 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.
The NCAA declined to comment.
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.
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 cooperate 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.
Statement from University of Memphis Athletics:
Based on a rule interpretation issued by the NCAA, University of Memphis freshman men’s basketball student-athlete James Wiseman was going to be withheld from competition. However, based on an emergency temporary restraining order issued late today by the courts, James will participate in tonight’s game. 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.
Initially, after a joint standard eligibility review by the University and the NCAA, as is common for all high-profile incoming student-athletes, 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.”
“The University of Memphis is enjoying a tremendous period of positive momentum and success on multiple fronts including the excitement surrounding our men’s basketball program,” stated Laird Veatch, University of Memphis Director of Athletics. “This matter is extremely unfortunate and frustrating at this special time in our history. We will continue to be cooperative, respectful and professional in our dealings with the NCAA, while availing ourselves of every resource in the best interests of our student-athletes, our coach, and our 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.”