In December 2019, James Wiseman’s college basketball career came to a screeching halt when he was forced to leave the University of Memphis after an eligibility battle with the NCAA. The NCAA punished Wiseman because his family accepted $11,500 in moving expenses in 2017 from Penny Hardaway who was the coach at Memphis East High School.
Wiseman moved from his hometown of Nashville to Memphis prior to his junior year of high school where he would play under Hardaway at East High School and in AAU competition.
With Hardaway’s guidance Wiseman became a McDonald’s All-American, Tennessee Mr. Basketball, Gatorade National Player of the Year, and Morgan Wootten National Player of the Year, all of which were awarded to him his senior year in 2019. Wiseman would then follow Hardaway to the University of Memphis after the former NBA star accepted the position of head coach.
Wiseman and his attorneys attempted to fight the NCAA’s ruling but he ultimately accepted a 12-game suspension that included repayment of the $11,500. The following December, Wiseman announced that he would leave the team and school to declare for the NBA Draft. It was a decision Wiseman was forced to make because he didn’t have the means to pay the money back.
Instead, he had to pursue the pros much earlier than he anticipated after playing only three games with the Memphis Tigers.
“I wanted to have a great collegiate career,” Wiseman recently told ESPN. “I wanted to win a national championship. But throughout the course of the first two games, everything started to go down in terms of my mental [well-being]. I was getting depressed. It was dehumanizing for me.”
His abrupt exit from the collegiate scene took a toll on him personally but his stock did not fall much because of the impressive reputation he built throughout high school. Wiseman averaged a double-double with 19.7 points and 10.7 rebounds, while also logging three blocks per game in the few games he played at Memphis.
Now Wiseman is on to the next level after the Golden State Warriors selected him No. 2 overall in the 2020 NBA Draft. It was an emotional moment for the 19-year old who has faced more adversity than he would have liked leading up to this point.
“Why I busted out in tears is because I’ve been through a lot,” Wiseman said when speaking to media after being selected. “I text my teammates every day in Memphis. I wanted that moment with my teammates. Just seeing all that, becoming like a downfall.”
“Man, I would just have to bust out in tears because I’ve been through a lot of adversity in my life,” he continued. “But I’m ready to go into Golden State with a great mindset, with a different mindset. Ready to go in there and learn as much as possible, grow my game and adapt and work my tail off.”
It has been a long, winding road for the Tennessee native but after 372 days without competitive basketball, Wiseman can finally put the adversity behind him and focus on building with his new teammates.
“This draft process has been the longest for me, so I’ve just been working on my game,” Wiseman explained. “I’ve actually been playing pickup games with pros already, so I’ve been getting a lot of experience. But really just focusing on myself. I’m truly ready to play with these great guys. You’ve got Steve Kerr as a head coach. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, a lot of great players on this team. I can’t wait to go in there and play my role as a player.”
Wiseman also attended Curry’s high school basketball camp in 2018 which will make his transition to Golden State a lot easier. In fact, Steph had an immediate welcome message for the rookie.
“I have a great relationship with Steph,” Wiseman told reporters. “Obviously, I went to his camp. He taught me a lot about the game of basketball, gave me a lot of information. That’s my guy.”
Wiseman’s journey to the NBA wouldn’t be complete without his long-term mentor Penny Hardaway. They still remain close. As a matter of fact, Hardaway was in attendance at Wiseman’s home when his name was called.
With Hardaway being a highly-respected NBA veteran, we asked Wiseman what advice Hardaway has given him about his path forward.
Through it all, he is thankful for what he has experienced but embraces the chance to move on and get to work.
“It’s been great adversity, just having God on my side and leading me throughout the way,” he said. “Having Coach [Penny Hardaway] on my side and my family on my side, and [I’ve been] really just building my mental toughness. Creating that chip on my shoulder to where I stay humble but work hard every day. And leave all the praise to God.”