MEMPHIS — James Wiseman walked from the jetway to the terminal at Memphis International Airport Sunday night and instantly drew the attention of two elderly women standing by the gate.
“Do you play for the Grizzlies,” one asked and the 6-foot-11 forward shook his head.
“No, ma’am,” he responded. “I play for East High School in Memphis.”
Wiseman’s presence on the Memphis area basketball scene will likely be polarizing, and potentially even controversial.
After spending the summer with Team Penny in Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League, Wiseman enrolled at two-time defending state champion East earlier this month to start his junior year of high school. His family relocated from Nashville to Memphis with him and Wiseman suddenly became the city’s highest-rated basketball prospect.
But his immediate future on the court is uncertain because an eligibility battle with the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association may loom before the 2017-18 boys’ basketball season gets underway this winter.
Wiseman played at Nashville-based Ensworth School previously, and his ties to Team Penny and East assistant coach Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway could force him to sit out this season due to TSSAA transfer rules.
According to section 13 of the TSSAA handbook, “If a student with an athletic record transfers to a new school where an ‘athletic coaching link’ existed in the past 12 months, that student is ineligible for 12 months at all levels in the specific sports where a linkage was present.”
The rule goes on to state that an athletic coaching link could include, “playing on non-school (independent) teams (and then transferring to that coach’s school).”
At issue will be whether the TSSAA deems Penny Hardaway to have coached Wiseman with Team Penny in recent months.
Though Hardaway founded Team Penny five years ago and remains active within the organization, he was not listed as the program director or a coach with Team Penny this year. Former Arkansas star Todd Day was officially the coach of the Team Penny EYBL team that Wiseman joined in May.
The same rule could also affect the eligibility of senior wing Ryan Boyce after he transferred to East from Houston High School for this school year. Boyce, a top-100 recruit who recently narrowed his college choices down to Memphis, Florida and SMU, also played on Team Penny’s EYBL team this offseason.
TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said it would be premature to comment on any eligibility decisions involving transfers since East is not yet required to submit a roster for this basketball season.
‘A hard decision’
Wiseman switched from St. Louis-based Bradley Beal Elite to Team Penny in May and finished college basketball’s July recruiting period rated as high as the No. 3 prospect in the entire 2019 class by several national recruiting outlets. He and Boyce would ensure East doesn’t miss a beat after senior guard T.J. Moss transferred to Nevada’s Findlay Prep and junior Antavion Collum left for Tennessee Prep Academy in Memphis earlier this month.
Wiseman averaged 20 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game as a sophomore at Ensworth and already holds more than a dozen scholarship offers, including suitors such as North Carolina, Kansas, Arizona, Indiana, Florida and Texas.
During an interview Sunday night, he said this move to Memphis revolved around the opportunity to develop further under the guidance of Hardaway.
“It was a hard decision because I wanted to stay at Ensworth because of academics,” Wiseman said. “It’s way better than East. But the basketball part of it, it was better competition so I just came here. The environment is different. At private school, it’s like way more constructive and disciplined compared to East. I just got to adjust to it. It’s kind of hard, but I’m getting better day by day.”
Wiseman said he enrolled at East when the school year began on Aug. 7 and noted that he hadn’t been notified of any eligibility concerns yet.
He returned to Memphis Sunday after spending the previous five days in Los Angeles as one of only two 2019 recruits invited to participate in the annual Nike Basketball Academy. The prestigious skill development camp featured 80 of the country’s top high school prospects as well as 20 of the nation’s best college basketball players and several Nike-sponsored NBA stars.
Now, however, Wiseman is focused on getting settled at East.
The transition, he added, is made easier by the fact that he played alongside teammates Alex Lomax and Malcolm Dandridge with Team Penny this summer.
“Our chemistry is already there, so for me to come here has just made it better,” Wiseman said. “Without teamwork, you can’t win championships, so we’ve got to have that team chemistry.”