MEMPHIS, Tenn. — 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 school tries to restore his eligibility in the eyes of the NCAA.
The university issued an extraordinary statement less than an hour before the Tigers played Illinois-Chicago at home.
Wiseman was on the court for the national anthem and introduced with the starting lineup.
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 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.
“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.
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, which included a national runner-up finish and a school-record 38 wins, when Derrick Rose was declared academically ineligible.
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