There was once possibility and praise available in hiring Penny Hardaway because the Memphis males’s basketball trainer.
The rewards had been abundant to this point. A No. 1 recruiting elegance. A complete FedExForum. A countrywide championship contender. A go back to relevancy, each in the community and around the faculty basketball global.
The chance arrived Friday night time, within the hours main as much as the Tigers’ 92-46 win over Illinois-Chicago. The chance was once how this all took place.
It’s a query that lingered underneath the outside all through the previous 12 months, as soon as James Wiseman dedicated to Memphis. It’s a query Memphis basketball fanatics had been glad to forget and, judging by way of the notable cheers he gained each time his identify was once introduced Friday, they nonetheless could be.
Nevertheless it’s a query that now threatens to jeopardize what all of us assumed can be a mystical season. It’s a query that might make Wiseman’s faculty basketball profession even shorter than we assumed. It’s a query that the NCAA thinks it has spoke back, and it doesn’t seem prepared to back off.
This a lot is apparent after the cleaning soap opera that performed out over a number of hours in downtown Memphis.
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First, outstanding Memphis legal professional Leslie Ballin carried out a information convention inside of his 12th ground places of work and introduced that the NCAA had deemed Wiseman ineligible previous this week and that he had filed a lawsuit on Wiseman’s behalf with the NCAA and the College of Memphis as defendants. A couple of mins after that, a Shelby County Judicial Court docket pass judgement on granted Wiseman a short lived emergency restraining order that allowed Wiseman to play Friday.
About 10 mins after that, at five:17 p.m., Wiseman emerged from a black Sprinter van within the storage beneath FedExForum, and ran throughout the development. Simply after 6 p.m., he was once introduced as a member of the beginning lineup. By means of the second one part, the NCAA spoke back.
“The College of Memphis was once notified that James Wiseman is most probably ineligible,” the group stated in a commentary. “The college selected to play him and in the end is answerable for making sure its student-athletes are eligible to play.”
That sound you’re listening to is the NCAA’s heels digging in.
It method Memphis took an enormous possibility enjoying Wiseman Friday night time and, frankly, all the way through Tuesday’s season opener. As a result of in keeping with Blake Ballin, a member of Wiseman’s prison crew, the NCAA despatched a letter notifying Memphis Wiseman was once ineligible “mins or hours prior to tipoff.” Tuesday night time.
Those first two wins may rather well change into forfeits.
“We’re going to get thru this,” Memphis athletic director Laird Veatch stated as he walked alongside press row Friday night time.
Hardaway addressed the problem on ESPN in an interview after the sport.
“That is simply as much as the varsity,” he stated. “We are simply going to move about it legally transferring ahead. James has a proper to do what he did and we are transferring ahead.”
We’re going to see. The drama turns out to simply be getting began.
NCAA laws stipulate booster can’t give a potential student-athlete cash. And that’s what the NCAA is alleging took place when Hardaway gave Wiseman and his mother $11,500 for moving expenses when Wiseman relocated from Nashville to Memphis in the summer of 2017.
Whether you think that’s fair, whether you think college athletes should be able to get money for their name, image or likeness, or whether you think the NCAA is a corrupt organization making millions off unpaid labor, it’s going to be hard for Memphis and Wiseman to get around this.
Prospective student-athletes and their families aren’t allowed to accept $11,500. Hardaway was allowed to give it to him because he wasn’t yet employed by the University of Memphis. But Wiseman, according to NCAA bylaws, was technically ineligible the moment his mother accepted those moving expenses since the NCAA considers Hardaway a booster.
Wiseman appears to be following the same playbook he used when the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association initially ruled him ineligible to play at Memphis East High School. Wiseman had transferred to East, where Hardaway was the coach, from Nashville’s Ensworth School.
In that instance, a lawsuit was also filed in a Shelby County Court and a similar temporary injunction was issued. The case was never actually resolved before Wiseman graduated, and he played two seasons at East, which included a state championship in Hardaway’s final season.
Wiseman and his family have long claimed his move to Memphis was to be closer to his sister, who is currently a student at the University of Memphis. The TSSAA alleged it was to play for Hardaway, who had become his grassroots basketball coach in the summer of 2017.
Perhaps, as Wiseman’s attorneys argued Friday, there’s a way to prove Hardaway shouldn’t have been considered a booster. Perhaps, as they disclosed in the lawsuit Friday, the fact that Hardaway and Wiseman allegedly disclosed the $11,500 in moving expenses to the NCAA during its initial eligibility ruling in May will convince a judge to rule in Wiseman’s favor.
Much like Hardaway’s hiring, this is a wholly unique situation. NBA superstars don’t often become high school and grassroots basketball coaches. High school and grassroots basketball coaches don’t often ascend immediately to a head coaching job.
But it was a risk then, and it’s definitely become a risk now.
Now, the most important moment of this Memphis basketball season won’t happen on the court. It’ll happen in a courthouse.
You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto