Memphis' James Wiseman, the nation's top recruit, gets court order to play after NCAA rules him ineligible

Memphis freshman James Wiseman was ruled ineligible by the NCAA but still took the floor in the Tigers' home game Friday after a Memphis court granted a temporary restraining order against the NCAA's decision. Wiseman, the No. 1 overall recruit and a potential future No. 1 draft pick, was granted the temporary injunction on an emergency basis by a Shelby County judicial court. 

The judge's ruling came down less than an hour before Memphis tipped off against Illinois-Chicago at 7 p.m. ET. He was in the starting lineup and won the opening tip for Memphis before scoring 17 points and pulling down nine rebounds in the Tigers' easy 92-46 victory vs. the Flames.

Memphis changes course after court ruling

Memphis issued a statement saying that Wiseman was originally going to be held out of the game, but its decision was reversed based on the court ruling. Here is the statement in full:

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."  

While the ruling was widely reported on Friday, the Commercial Appeal reported the NCAA's ineligibility ruling actually came down just before Wiseman began his season on Tuesday against S.C. State. Wiseman played 22 minuntes in that game, scoring 28 points and adding 11 boards.

Hardaway says Wiseman will continue to play

After Memphis notched a 92-46 win over Illinois-Chicago Friday night, Memphis coach Penny Hardaway declined to comment about the NCAA's ruling but said that Wiseman will continue to play for Memphis as he did on Friday.

"I can't talk about [the NCAA ruling]," said Hardaway. "But he will continue to play."

Hardaway added the situation "is what it is" and that Memphis' tough upcoming schedule doesn't allow for himself or the team to be distracted in this moment.

"It just is what it is," he said. "We know we have to focus, we still had a task ahead of us. UIC, even though they were down players, they were still capable, especially if their better players got hot tonight, and we did a great job on them. We knew we had to stay locked in no matter what was going on."

NCAA's issue stems from 2008 Hardaway donation

Wiseman's attorney, Leslie Ballin, said the NCAA believes Hardaway -- the second-year Memphis coach who coached Wiseman in high school -- helped finance Wiseman and his family's move to Memphis when he was in high school. 

Though the two have a long-standing kinship, Ballin says the NCAA deemed Hardaway a booster, leading to the ruling of Wiseman's ineligibility. Hardaway donated $1 million to the University of Memphis in 2008 to help fund the university's Penny Hardaway Hall of Fame, which by NCAA rules deems him a booster.

Before landing Wiseman as a recruit at Memphis last fall, Hardaway, Ballin told reporters, financed the move in 2017. He then coached Wiseman at East High in 2017-18, was hired by Memphis, his alma mater, in the spring of 2018, and landed Wiseman's verbal commitment less than a year later.

NCAA reacts to Wiseman playing

After Wiseman played vs. UIC, the NCAA issued a statement expressing its disappointment that Wiseman was allowed to play. 


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