James Wiseman entered the University of Memphis as the early favorite to be selected No. 1 overall in the 2020 NBA Draft. While that distinction is still very much in play, his road to getting there was severely complicated by the NCAA. After only a single game, he was suspended for 12 more thanks to his acceptance of $11,500 in moving expenses from Memphis coach Penny Hardaway. Wiseman played two more games before dropping his appeal and eventually dropping out of the university altogether.
Now he is preparing for the NBA Draft, but thoughts of what happened to him in college still linger. Unlike many college stars who view their lone amateur seasons as a pathway to the pros, Wiseman explained in a revealing interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that playing for Memphis genuinely mattered to him, and the NCAA’s punishment still hurts even as he gets closer to ultimately reaching the NBA.
“I wanted to have a great collegiate career,” Wiseman 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.
“I felt it was unfair because they notified and alerted me at the last minute. Coach Penny told me about it. I was really down and shocked. When I got suspended for 12 games and had to pay back the money, that was kind of surreal. I didn’t really have any knowledge of [the violation] or all the ramifications behind it.”
While the fairness of the NCAA’s punishment for Wiseman remains a topic of fierce debate, it was at the very least unrealistic. Asking an unpaid college freshman to pay $11,500 to charity when he is not allowed to use his basketball stardom for financial gain at this point was downright draconian. In that sense, Wiseman had no choice but to leave Memphis. He couldn’t afford to remain somewhere that was asking him to pay for the right to play for free.
“It was a bit surreal because I couldn’t use a GoFundMe page that [ESPN’s] Jay Williams put out for me, obviously,” Wiseman told ESPN. “I couldn’t use any outside sources. I had to get [the money] on my own, and that was pretty impossible because I didn’t have the money. I was just a regular college student.”
Wiseman is ultimately going to be fine. He will be a top pick in the NBA Draft and guarantee himself millions of dollars before even playing a game. But he has every right to be upset with a policy that was seemingly designed to prevent him from playing collegiately in the first place. The NCAA refuses to give even a single inch when it comes to their players earning money for their on-court performance, and Wiseman was a casualty of that philosophy.