Why was James Wiseman suspended at Memphis? How No. 1 recruit’s college career lasted 3 games

James Wiseman was supposed to be must-see TV in the 2019-20 college basketball season, until he wasn’t.

A suspension and subsequent decision to declare for the 2020 NBA Draft meant hoops fans only got to watch Wiseman play for Penny Hardaway and Memphis in three games. That didn’t keep Wiseman from staying right near the top of draft boards, with the likelihood high that he’ll be a top-three selection on Wednesday.

If you’re an NBA fan who doesn’t pay much attention to college basketball, or you’re just looking for a refresher, we’ve taken a look back at Wiseman’s suspension and his brief dominance at Memphis.

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Why was James Wiseman suspended at Memphis?

Wiseman officially received a 12-game suspension from the NCAA for “recruiting inducements his family received” prior to his enrollment at Memphis. As part of the suspension, the NCAA also said Wiseman must donate $11,500 to the charity of his choice. 

The suspension stemmed from an $11,500 payment made by Penny Hardaway to Wiseman’s mother in 2017 to help the Wiseman family relocate from Nashville to Memphis. At the time, Hardaway was an assistant coach at East High School in Memphis, along with a reputable AAU coach. But by the time Wiseman made it to Memphis, Hardaway was the Tigers’ head coach.

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a basketball player in front of a crowd: Guard, 6-foot-5, 21 years old Joe had an incredibly promising freshman campaign, breaking the program record for most 3-pointers in a season while also shooting 41.4 percent from beyond the arc. That dropped to 34.2 percent as a sophomore but he was still one of the most versatile shot creators in the NCAA. While he is still taking interviews with NBA teams, he is currently in Arkansas and participating in voluntary team workouts.

The NCAA determined that Hardaway was a University of Memphis booster because he’d paid the school $1 million in 2008 to help establish the Penny Hardaway Hall of Fame at the university. Because Hardaway was a booster, he wouldn’t have been allowed to give the Wiseman family that money, resulting in the NCAA violation and suspension. Memphis said Wiseman didn’t know about the payment to his mother at the time it was made.

Wiseman decided about a month following the suspension that he wouldn’t return to play for Memphis and would instead prepare for the NBA Draft.

James Wiseman’s short college career

Wiseman played in three games for Memphis before the suspension was upheld, with two of those being after it was handed down while a temporary restraining order allowed Wiseman to remain on the court.

  • vs. South Carolina State: 28 points (11-14 FG), 11 rebounds, 3 blocks
  • vs. Illinois-Chicago: 17 points (4-4 FG), 9 rebounds, 5 blocks
  • vs. Oregon: 14 points (5-8 FG), 12 rebounds, 1 block 

Fran Frischilla, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, told the New York Times the following after Wiseman’s declaration for the draft: “His three games were enough for people to see the enormous potential.”

Other players have been top-10 picks in recent years despite limited games in a freshman season at college, including Kyrie Irving and Darius Garland. Both had been injured in college, presenting a potential red flag that Wiseman doesn’t have.

While two of those three games weren’t the best competition, Wiseman also looked solid against the Ducks in a de facto road game in Portland, Oregon. 

For a one-and-done player such as Wiseman who entered college as a probable top-three pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, he would’ve had to play especially poorly or have others around him rocket up draft boards for that status to change. But Wiseman performed when on the court, leaving the 7-1 center’s limitless potential there for the taking for a team at the top of the draft.

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