Top NBA Draft Prospect Has Been Robbed by NCAA

Memphis freshman center James Wiseman torched the competition during his Nov. 5 college debut. He racked up 28 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks in a 97-64 home shellacking of South Carolina State.

Wiseman should’ve celebrated his stellar showing, but the NCAA had other plans by ruling the ESPN 2019 No. 1 recruit ineligible due to “receiving money from a booster” after initially clearing him months before.

The NCAA ruling’s sticking point is Wiseman’s mother, Donzaleigh Artis, received $11,500 from NBA legend Penny Hardaway back in May 2017 to cover moving expenses from Nashville to Memphis. This move occurred when the 16-year-old Wiseman transferred to play for newly promoted head coach Hardaway’s Memphis East High School team.

Hardaway eventually jumped from the prep ranks to lead his alma mater University of Memphis in 2018. Wiseman decided in 2019 to spurn former Tiger coach John Calipari’s siren-like advances, following his prep and AAU coach by becoming Memphis’ biggest recruit to arrive on campus since Derrick Rose.  

Hardaway previously donated a cool $1 million to the university’s athletic department back in 2008, making him a booster in the NCAA’s eyes. This monetary gift occurred before either he or Wiseman had any basketball connection with Memphis.

This monetary gift initially passed NCAA eligibility requirements back in May, so Wiseman should’ve been only worrying about his freshman year.

But the ever-hypocritical NCAA brought it up again before Memphis’ South Carolina State game that Wiseman “probably is ineligible” despite his case being cleared. This denies his due process by putting him in double jeopardy. The non-profit organization retroactively suspended Wiseman Nov. 8 to preserve its veneer of amateurism and “purity of the game.”

Wiseman’s lawyers obtained a court injunction allowing the phenom to play the next two games, but he eventually waived that right to accept a 12-game suspension and donating the spent $11,500 to a charity of his choice. His school appealed the suspension to no avail.

NCAA’s Stance Faces Public Scrutiny

Dec 3, 2019; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Tigers head coach Penny Hardaway during the second half against the Bradley Braves at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Everything must be hunky-dory in NCAA-land. Wiseman is suspended despite not academically cheating, hiring an agent, engaging in criminal activity or even accepting money as his mother needed help for an expensive move.

Meanwhile, the public mainly sides with Wiseman’s corner.

The Commercial Appeal’s Ryan Poe reports Hardaway rightfully thought the 12-game suspension doesn’t reflect what happened.

“The ruling may have shocked Hardaway but was incredibly on-brand for the NCAA, whose approach to ruling college athletics would make Mussolini blush,” Poe writes. “But even though taking on the NCAA in defense of Wiseman wasn’t smart, it was still right. Because…the one being punished in this mess is the victim.”

One logical question is how Wiseman will donate the already spent $11,500 to a charity when the NCAA forbids him from earning income from endorsements, getting a job, signing autographs, selling likeness to videogames, signing with a sports agent to get a monetary advance, and accepting loans from family friends even if they are repaid (a la Ohio State DE Chase Young). ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenburg said Wiseman can set up a 4-year repayment plan with a good faith payment to start.

Some big names chimed in on Wiseman’s defense:


Money, Image Name of the Game

Nov 23, 2019; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Tigers fan wears a “free wiseman” jersey in support of Memphis Tigers center James Wiseman (32) before the game against the Mississippi Rebels at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA and its fans project college basketball serving as the last bastion of amateurism. This misplaced idealism is a sham.  

The Indianapolis-based organization rakes in some mean green from huge TV contracts to carry the biggest office gambling pool in history known as March Madness. Turner and CBS Sports inked a 14-year, $10.8-billion contract and extended that out to 2032 with another $8.8 billion. This combined $19.6 billion doesn’t include ESPN and local TV contracts, TV ad revenue, corporate sponsorships, ticket and merchandising sales.  

Zion Williamson increased TV ratings last year, rivaling the 1991 Christian Laettner hate-watching campaign. God-forbid if he received any compensation that instead supports coaches’ and administrators’ onerous salaries.

NCAA amateurism is absurd when older men in power get money and young players who are the product don’t see anything. This indirectly causes problems such as the shoe company and agent scandal to fester before bursting open.

NCAA utilizes free labor for its own gains and does not benefit student-athletes proportionately. Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than its pretending to be the morality police.

Wiseman gets punished for something that happened out of his control as a minor. (Shame, shame!) Baylor hasn’t received sanctions yet for its football team’s serial sexual assault rampage on campus. Penn State football weaseled out of tougher sanctions and Michigan State got off the hook despite enabling and covering up child sexual predators wreaking havoc on their campuses.

Punish the athlete for minor offenses and exonerate member institutions for criminal ones. Makes sense if the goal is for rabid fan bases to continue buoying ratings to justify lucrative TV contracts.

NCAA Forced to Change…When?

Nov 8, 2019; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Tigers center James Wiseman (32) walks off the court after the game against the Illinois-Chicago Flames at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Wiseman case’s wayward ruling pushes compensating student-athletes to the forefront. Federal court rulings knocked NCAA for violating antitrust laws for limiting scholarship values. These rulings pressured the NCAA board of governors to update its bylaws by 2021, permitting athletes to enter third-party sponsorship deals.

California passed legislation for its state Division I school to begin paying student-athletes in 2023 while South Carolina, Colorado and Washington’s state legislatures will review this matter when they reconvene.

Wiseman hopes to be reinstated during the Jan. 12 Auburn game. If not, the 7’1″, 240-pounder’s raw athletic abilities still have NBA scouts foaming at the mouths as a projected No. 2 draft pick.

He fluidly runs the floor while pushing the ball in transition, is a superior rim runner with a soft touch to effortless catch lobs and execute finger-roll layups, possesses good lateral quickness to guard baseline drives and swat doomed balls away, and nails an occasional 3 for stretch 5 potential.

He’s one of those “modern era” bigs that we’ll love seeing at the NBA level but are being robbed of in college. (Which is a modest theft compared to what he and other college athletes are routinely robbed of by the NCAA.)

Times are changing. Wiseman will emerge on the other side of this arbitrary kangaroo court while the NCAA’s pearl-clutching, archaic notion of moralistic amateurism will continue eroding away. 

This is the exact reason why the NBA has a market advantage in expanding its G-League to take players prior to college and why athletes have already begun fleeing to play overseas in advance of the NBA Draft. The NCAA’s stubbornness is not only hurting its image but will soon undo its talent pool into its bottom line as well. This is all (too slowly) adding up into something that will come back to bite them.

Yet, one can’t help but lament that Wiseman probably won’t be their last victim before this sham dies out.