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.

Wiseman’s attorney, Leslie Ballin, said in a news conference Friday that Penny Hardaway, before he was Memphis’ coach, provided $11,500 in moving expenses to aid the Wiseman family’s move to Memphis, without the player’s knowledge.

The NCAA deemed that Hardaway, a Memphis alum, was a booster at the time, according to Ballin.

However, a Shelby County court 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.

Memphis said in a statement that the NCAA had declared Wiseman eligible in May. But months of investigation followed, ultimately finding 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.

Wiseman, who was the No. 1-ranked recruit in the 2019 class, moved to Memphis from Nashville in the summer of 2017. He would attend East High School (Tennessee) and play for Team Penny/Bluff City Legends on the grassroots circuit – both of which were coached by Hardaway.

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

According to the school, Wiseman was declared eligible by the NCAA in May 2019. The NCAA then began investigating new information, which resulted in Friday’s announcement.

“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.

“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 center, went for 28 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in Memphis’ season-opening win over South Carolina State.

He was the top college basketball recruit in ESPN’s 2019 rankings and is the top player in ESPN’s rankings for the 2020 NBA Draft.

Wiseman 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 Rejean Ellis and Lester Quinones and in-state guard Damion 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 Memphis.

The news of Wiseman’s ineligibility broke roughly 45 minutes prior to the Tigers’ 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.


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