MEMPHIS — 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 university tries to restore his eligibility in the eyes of the NCAA.
Memphis issued an extraordinary statement less than an hour before the Tigers played Illinois-Chicago at home, saying Wiseman was going to be kept out of games based on interpretation of a rule by the NCAA until the temporary restraining order obtained by Wiseman's attorney Leslie Ballin late Friday afternoon.
"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 statement said.
The 7-foot-1 Wiseman was on the court Friday night for the national anthem and introduced with the starting lineup. Wiseman had four points, five blocks and six rebounds as Memphis led 47-16 at halftime.
"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 said 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.
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 by the university and the NCAA 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.
Wiseman committed to Memphis and Hardaway again in November 2018, the top player in what wound up the nation's No. 1 recruiting class for Hardaway.
The freshman did not play in either of Memphis' exhibition games with a right ankle injury. But he scored 28 points and had 11 rebounds Tuesday night in a 97-64 win against South Carolina State.
Memphis had its 2007-08 season vacated by the NCAA, which included a national runner-up finish and a school-record 38 wins, when Derrick Rose was declared academically ineligible.