NCAA rules Memphis' James Wiseman ineligible; top prospect gets stay to play Friday

Bilas: Memphis risks postseason ban by playing Wiseman (1:42)

Jay Bilas says Memphis' decision to play James Wiseman, despite his being ruled ineligible by the NCAA, could end in a postseason ban for the program. (1:42)

Memphis freshman James Wiseman, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA draft, suited up for the Tigers on Friday night despite being ruled ineligible by the NCAA earlier in the day.

The school said in a statement Friday that Penny Hardaway, before he was the Tigers' coach, provided $11,500 to aid the Wiseman family's move to Memphis, Tennessee, without the player's knowledge. The NCAA deemed that Hardaway, a Memphis alum, was a booster at the time, according to Wiseman's attorney, Leslie Ballin.

However, a Shelby County judge on Friday halted the NCAA's ruling for the time being, making Wiseman eligible to play Friday night when the No. 14 Tigers hosted Illinois-Chicago.

Wiseman scored 17 points on 4-for-4 shooting to go with nine rebounds and five blocks in Memphis' 92-46 victory.

"All Smiles!!! God got me!!" Wiseman wrote on Instagram.

The NCAA issued a statement Friday night in response to Wiseman's appearance in the game, saying, "The University of Memphis was notified that James Wiseman is likely ineligible. The university chose to play him and ultimately is responsible for ensuring its student-athletes are eligible to play."

Hardaway declined to comment on the NCAA's statement after the game. Asked why he played Wiseman before the situation had fully resolved, he told ESPN: "That's just up to the school. We're just going to go about it legally moving forward. Obviously, James has a right to do what he did, and we're moving forward from it."

Memphis said the NCAA had declared Wiseman eligible in May. But months of investigation followed, ultimately revealing the finding of documentation of the moving expenses.

"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," the school said in a statement.

Attorneys representing Wiseman intend to have a conversation with the NCAA early next week about the next steps in the process. Although a Nov. 18 hearing has been scheduled to address Wiseman's request for a temporary injunction that would block the NCAA from taking any action against him throughout the legal process, an official date will be determined according to what's convenient for all parties, Randy Fishman, Wiseman's co-counsel, told ESPN.

Fishman said the NCAA's bylaws are "archaic," and he intends to prove that its determination that Hardaway is a booster "indefinitely" because he gave money to the school more than a decade ago is unfair. He said Wiseman has not done anything wrong and that Hardaway should be lauded for his generosity toward the Memphis community.

If a judge rules in Wiseman's favor at the upcoming hearing, a trial will be held to determine a final, permanent ruling. Fishman said it could be a lengthy process. But he said Memphis is "in a tough spot" as to whether it will allow Wiseman to play as the legal process proceeds.


Hardaway: Wiseman had the right to do what he did

Penny Hardaway shares his reaction to the NCAA ruling James Wiseman ineligible for the rest of this season.

Fishman also said he "respectfully disagreed" with the NCAA's statement that said Memphis had been told that Wiseman was "likely ineligible." Overall, Wiseman's fight is bigger than one high-profile player, the attorney said.

"James Wiseman is a student-athlete," Fishman said. "He's 19 years old. He has every right to bring a lawsuit to protect his interests. He could miss games that would allow him to build his résumé. Those all relate to dollars and cents. That's unreasonable and unfair. That is wrong, and someone has to stand up to them, and James Wiseman has decided to do that."

Both Wiseman and Hardaway are expected to participate in the upcoming hearing. The NCAA will participate, too.

"Hardaway will likely be called as a witness," Fishman said. "Wiseman will likely be called as a witness."

Wiseman, who was the No. 1-ranked recruit in the 2019 class, moved to Memphis from Nashville in the summer of 2017. He attended East High School and played for Team Penny/Bluff City Legends on the grassroots circuit -- both of which Hardaway coached.

When Memphis hired Hardaway to replace Tubby Smith in March 2018, Hardaway made Wiseman his top recruiting target in the 2019 class. Wiseman picked Memphis over Kentucky in November 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 a statement. "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."

Wiseman, a 7-foot-1 center, had 28 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks in Memphis' season-opening win over South Carolina State on Tuesday.

He was the centerpiece of Memphis' No. 1-ranked recruiting class, a group that also included fellow five-star prospects Precious Achiuwa and D.J. Jeffries, ESPN 100 guards Boogie Ellis and Lester Quinones, and in-state guard Damian Baugh. The Tigers started five freshmen in the season opener.

Memphis attracted significant betting interest during the offseason. At Caesars Sportsbook, the Tigers' odds to win the national title went from 40-1 in May to 8-1 entering the season. Only five teams -- Michigan State, Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and Louisville -- attracted more money on Caesars' title odds than the Tigers.

The news of Wiseman's ineligibility broke roughly 45 minutes before Friday's game against Illinois-Chicago, and when it was believed Wiseman was out, the line dipped from Memphis -20 to as low as -17. With Wiseman cleared to play Friday, the line settled back at Memphis -20.

ESPN's David Purdum contributed to this report.