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Sport Opinion: Do the right thing NCAA, and free Memphis' James Wiseman

20:30  09 november  2019
20:30  09 november  2019 Source:   usatoday.com

Memphis basketball, Penny Hardaway are taking a big risk with James Wiseman | Giannotto

  Memphis basketball, Penny Hardaway are taking a big risk with James Wiseman | Giannotto There was risk and reward to be had when it came to hiring Penny Hardaway as Memphis men's basketball coach. The risk arrived Friday night.The rewards have been plentiful thus far. A No. 1 recruiting class. A full FedExForum. A national championship contender. A return to relevancy, both locally and across the college basketball world.

Free James Wiseman.

That’s the compassionate thing — the right thing — for the NCAA to do. Let Wiseman continue to play this season for Memphis and, yes, for Memphis coach Penny Hardaway, who technically, apparently, allegedly broke NCAA rules in 2017 when Wiseman was a high school player and Hardaway was a high school coach.

Two years later, Wiseman is the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft. He’s also, and this is the crux of the matter, a freshman center at Memphis. Where Hardaway now coaches.

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The James Wiseman eligibility story at Memphis is not a black-and-white issue, no matter how hard any of us — fans, haters, neutrals, even (especially) the NCAA — try to see it that way. Now, I’ll give you this: If you see the James Wiseman story only through the prism of the NCAA rulebook, well, it is black-and-white. He should be ineligible. That’s what the rulebook says. If you lack the energy or compassion to look at this any other way, congratulations. This kaleidoscope of a world must be so easy for you.

Kodiak Brown standing in front of a crowd: Memphis Tigers center James Wiseman is introduced before their game against the South Carolina State Bulldogs at the FedExForum on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.© Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal Memphis Tigers center James Wiseman is introduced before their game against the South Carolina State Bulldogs at the FedExForum on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

For the rest of us …

This one is crushing, because it’s so damn hard.

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For those who don’t know the critical details, they are these: Wiseman had just finished his sophomore year of high school in Nashville in the summer of 2017 when Hardaway — his grassroots coach — gave Wiseman’s mother $11,500 to move to Memphis … where, yes, he would play for Hardaway at Memphis East High.

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WISEMAN INELIGIBLE: What we know about the NCAA ruling

As the story goes, the family wanted to be closer to Wiseman’s sister, a student at Memphis. If you don’t believe that story, and the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association did not, the story is sideways already. Wiseman was declared ineligible to play at East, because the TSSAA is as heartless as the IHSAA here in Indiana, but he won a temporary restraining order; the case was never resolved, and Wiseman played his junior and senior seasons at Memphis East.

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By then, Hardaway was the coach at Memphis.

And while this has nothing to do with the NCAA’s ruling of ineligibility — hard to believe, but true — that coaching change looks weird, too. Memphis had fired Tubby Smith after just two seasons, when he won 19 and 21 games, ostensibly because the school wasn’t selling tickets and was losing money. To fire Smith with a 40-26 record after just two seasons, the school paid nearly $10 million to buy out his contract. Does that make sense?

Maybe this does: The school hired legendary alum Penny Hardaway before the 2018-19 season, a favorite son Memphis knew would energize the fan base. And he has.

But the school also knew — had to know — that in one year he would bring future NBA lottery pick James Wiseman into the program.

Sins of the mother

It’s complicated, this story, and here’s why the NCAA decided Wiseman cannot play for Memphis, ever: Not because Hardaway was his high school coach, or his AAU coach. And not even, technically, because he gave Wiseman’s mother $11,500 to move the family to Memphis in 2017. No, Wiseman is ineligible at Memphis for something that happened in 2008, when the kid was 7 years old:

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  How James Wiseman's NCAA lawsuit features shades of the Derrick Rose case at Memphis The ongoing saga between James Wiseman, Memphis and the NCAA has rekindled memories of the last time Memphis basketball battled with the NCAA.Who can forget Derrick Rose, the magic he created as part of the Tigers' 2008 Final Four team and the controversial eligibility decision that still irks Memphis fans to this day?

Hardaway, a former Memphis Grizzlies player with gobs of NBA money, donated $1 million to fund the school’s Penny Hardaway Hall of Fame. That, according to the NCAA, made Hardaway a Memphis booster in perpetuity. Which made his $11,500 gift to the Wiseman family in 2017, nine years later, a violation.

Confusing? It’s about to get worse. After Wiseman signed with Memphis, the school told the NCAA about the $11,500 moving expenses. The NCAA knew. It studied Wiseman’s eligibility from all angles, as it does with every super-elite prospect, and deemed him eligible in late May …

… until Oct. 31, when the NCAA told the school: We’ve changed our mind. Wiseman isn’t eligible after all. Play him, the NCAA was warning Memphis, and we’ll forfeit your whole damn season.

a man standing in front of a crowd: Memphis' James Wiseman (32) high fives fans as he takes the court Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, before an exhibition game against LeMoyne-Owen at FedEx Forum in downtown Memphis. Memphis won 88-63.© Max Gersh/The Commercial Appeal Memphis' James Wiseman (32) high fives fans as he takes the court Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, before an exhibition game against LeMoyne-Owen at FedEx Forum in downtown Memphis. Memphis won 88-63.

Memphis won an injunction in a local court. It’s playing Wiseman, knowing the NCAA still has the authority to forfeit the 2019-20 Memphis basketball team — and then crush the program with sanctions — after the season is complete.

Want another layer of complication to this whole thing? Here you go: James Wiseman never knew Hardaway had helped his family move in 2017. Nobody told him. Maybe his mom was too proud to admit to her son that she couldn’t afford moving expenses. Whatever the case, the kid didn’t know.

Memphis declares James Wiseman ineligible while it works toward resolution with NCAA

  Memphis declares James Wiseman ineligible while it works toward resolution with NCAA James Wiseman withdrew his lawsuit against the NCAA, indicating a settlement could be in the works. Wiseman and his legal team filed a notice of voluntary nonsuit Thursday in a show of good faith toward the NCAA just days before a hearing in Shelby County Chancery court was scheduled for Monday.The firms representing Wiseman —  Ballin, Ballin and Fishman, as well as Farese, Farese and Farese — issued a statement: "It has become clear to Mr.

So those are the facts, and they completely, totally stink. On the one hand, based on everything we know about the way the NCAA has worked for decades, Wiseman cannot play for Memphis. Maybe he cannot play anywhere. The sins of the mother, and all that. It’s one of those cold-blooded concepts we’ve accepted as fact over the years, because that’s the way the NCAA has always done things.

But the NCAA is changing how it’s doing things. It’s going for, finally, more compassion. It’s looking into allowing athletes to make money off their likenesses, money that for years was pocketed by the schools — and by the NCAA — while students were told room-and-board was all they deserved for their role in this billion-dollar business.

The NCAA also is allowing players to transfer much more freely, finally acknowledging that kids choose schools because of the coach — and if the coach leaves, well, the kid should be able to find another school (and coach) to play for.

But here, compassion is gone. Penny Hardaway did something when James Wiseman was 7 years old. What Hardaway did in 2008 was completely legal, and for more than a decade it looked awfully generous — until 11 years later, when the NCAA wants us to believe it looks illegal, even nefarious.

Your fault, NCAA

And after all of this, who did the NCAA determine should pay the ultimate price? James Wiseman. But not in May, when the NCAA had the facts to make that ruling and Wiseman still had the chance to play for another school. No, the NCAA said: Let’s make this ruling on Oct. 31, when it’s too late for Wiseman to pick another school.

The NCAA, after screwing up, said: Let’s crush the kid.

No, NCAA. Let’s not.

Let this one go. Let Wiseman play. Decide that this issue is so gray, so completely and hopelessly gray, that you’re allowing Wiseman to play in college for his AAU coach, for his high school coach, for one of the most legendary basketball names in state history.

There may well be some guilty parties in this story, whether guilty of avarice or, in the case of the NCAA, incompetence.

But there is at least one completely innocent person here.

Free James Wiseman.

Find IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at www.facebook.com/gregg.doyel.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Opinion: Do the right thing NCAA, and free Memphis' James Wiseman

James Wiseman didn't play, but he loomed large in Memphis basketball win over Alcorn State | Giannotto .
The James Wiseman-less Memphis Tigers blew out Alcorn State Saturday, but his absence on the court loomed over everythingSeated in one of the courtside seats lining the sideline at FedExForum Saturday afternoon watching his teammates warm up without him, young fans asked for photos and adults offered encouraging words. Then one man walked up wearing a Tiger blue “Free Wiseman” T-shirt.

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