An impromptu news conference by a Memphis lawyer on Friday evening delivered shockwaves through college basketball: Former No. 1 recruit and potential No. 1 NBA draft pick James Wiseman had been declared ineligible by the NCAA. The decision centered on moving and relocation costs given to Wiseman’s family by Penny Hardaway, Wiseman’s former high school and AAU coach and current college coach at Memphis, in 2017. A Shelby County judge ruled a short time later that Wiseman could play, pending a hearing later this month.
How did we get here? It goes back more than 11 years.
Aug. 21, 2008: Hardaway donates $1 million to the University of Memphis, which uses the money to build the Penny Hardaway Hall of Fame on the Tigers’ campus.
Spring/summer 2016: After his freshman season at The Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee, Wiseman plays for the St. Louis Eagles grassroots team on the Nike circuit. He’s considered one of the top rising sophomores in high school basketball, with the likes of Alabama, Vanderbilt and Florida extending scholarship offers during the summer.
Spring/summer 2017: After playing his sophomore season at Ensworth, Wiseman joins the Team Penny grassroots team on the Nike circuit. Team Penny was founded by Hardaway, and he was a mainstay on the bench and sideline of the team’s EYBL games.
August 2017: Wiseman transfers from Ensworth to East High School in Memphis, Tennessee, for his junior year, with his family relocating from Nashville. The East High School basketball team is coached by Hardaway.
Nov. 16, 2017: Wiseman and East teammate Ryan Boyce are ruled ineligible by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association due to an “athletic coaching link” with Hardaway. Both Wiseman and Boyce played for Team Penny. The Shelby County Board of Education files a lawsuit five days later seeking to overturn the ruling.
Dec. 13, 2017: A Shelby County chancellor rules in favor of Wiseman and Boyce, saying they can play, pending another hearing.
March 14, 2018: Memphis fires Tubby Smith after two seasons. Smith’s ouster comes after weeks of speculation that Memphis planned to fire Smith and hire Hardaway. Hardaway is the clear front-runner to replace Smith.
March 17, 2018: Wiseman leads East High School to the school’s third straight state championship.
March 20, 2018: Hardaway is introduced as Memphis’ head coach and is immediately tasked with two things: bringing excitement back to the Tigers’ program and getting Memphis involved with high-level recruits again. The buzz in the city waned under Smith, but Hardaway — who grew up in Memphis, played for the Tigers and returned to coach both high school and AAU ball in the city after playing in the NBA — immediately brings optimism to the fan base.
April 7, 2018: Memphis offers Wiseman. Smith went to see Wiseman a couple of times while he was the head coach, and Wiseman visited the campus once, but the Tigers weren’t a serious threat to sign him. Kentucky was the heavy favorite until this point.
April 18, 2018: Hardaway conducts an in-home visit with Wiseman, making it clear that Wiseman is the Tigers’ top target in the 2019 class.
July 15, 2018: After a spring and summer playing for the Bluff City Legends (the rebranded name of the Team Penny program), Wiseman says on ESPNU that “Memphis and Kentucky are definitely my top two schools right now.”
Aug. 7, 2018: Wiseman decides to stay at East High School instead of transferring to a national high school powerhouse for his senior year. Hardaway’s top target staying in Memphis is a massive win for the head coach, given his geographic proximity to Wiseman and his connection to the school.
Sept. 13, 2018: Wiseman takes an unofficial visit to Memphis.
Oct. 4, 2018: Hardaway puts his initial stamp on the program with Memphis Madness, an event that attracts a sell-out crowd of 18,000 fans and features performances by Memphis natives Yo Gotti, Moneybagg Yo, Blocboy JB and Derez Deshon. Wiseman is on campus unofficially, along with five other top-50 prospects.
Oct. 26, 2018: Wiseman takes his official visit to Memphis. The Tigers have the last say in Wiseman’s recruitment. He has already visited Kentucky, Florida State, Kansas and Vanderbilt — and he rescheduled his Memphis visit so the Tigers could be last. It’s still widely considered a Memphis vs. Kentucky battle.
Nov. 2, 2018: Wiseman takes another unofficial visit to Memphis.
Nov. 20, 2018: Wiseman commits to Memphis, announcing live on SportsCenter that he’s staying home to play for the Tigers instead of going to Kentucky. Hardaway beating John Calipari for the No. 1 prospect in the country is the biggest headline during the early signing period and a clear sign that Memphis is going to be a major factor on the recruiting trail.
Nov. 29, 2018: Hardaway announces that Wiseman has officially signed his letter of intent.
May 2019: Wiseman is declared eligible by the NCAA after a joint standard eligibility review by the university and the NCAA.
August 2019: Memphis travels to the Bahamas for a preseason trip. Wiseman doesn’t play because of a shoulder injury. Hardaway says the team is “being very cautious.”
October 2019: Hardaway says at AAC Media Day that Wiseman missed practice time because of an ankle injury. Wiseman doesn’t play in either of the Tigers’ exhibition games, but Hardaway says he hopes Wiseman will play in the season opener.
Nov. 4, 2019: Hardaway says Wiseman is “healthy and is playing tomorrow.”
Nov. 5, 2019: Wiseman makes his debut for Memphis, starting against South Carolina State and finishing with 28 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
Nov. 8, 2019: Wiseman’s attorney, Leslie Ballin, says at a news conference that Wiseman has been ruled ineligible by the NCAA after findings that Hardaway helped Wiseman and his family move to Memphis. The school says that Hardaway — deemed a booster by the NCAA due to the aforementioned $1 million donation to the school in 2008 — provided $11,500 in moving expenses to Wiseman’s family in the summer of 2017. Wiseman files a lawsuit against the NCAA.
Shelby County Chancery Court judge Jim Kyle issues an emergency temporary restraining order on the NCAA’s decision, which allows Wiseman to play in Memphis’ game that night.
Wiseman starts for the Tigers against UIC, recording 17 points, nine rebounds and five blocks.
The NCAA issues a statement midway through Memphis’ 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 says after the game that Wiseman “will continue to play.”
Nov. 18, 2019: A hearing on Wiseman’s suit against the NCAA is tentatively scheduled for 10 a.m. local time on Nov. 18.