IRVING, Texas – Just over a week ago James Wiseman was welcoming staffs from Kentucky and Memphis into his home, having in-depth talks about his future, listening to old stories and laughing at countless jokes with Wildcats head coach John Calipari and new Tigers coach Penny Hardaway.
So you’ll have to excuse his incredulous squint when he was reminded that he had to treat them like strangers the second he walked into the Drive Nation Sports Facility for the first session of the Nike EYBL this past weekend.
“It’s crazy,” Wiseman said. “I had to act like I didn’t even know them.”
That’s right, not even the country’s No. 1 overall player is above NCAA rules during evaluation periods, which prohibit in-person contact between coaches, school staff members or athletics representatives and players and their family members.
There are two this month including this coming weekend and three more in July.
The NCAA defines contact as “any dialogue in excess of an exchange of greeting.”
Instead, coaches and players opted for non-verbal communication such as waves, winks, head nods, and finger-pointing.
NCAA officials were dispersed around the facility to make sure coaches are following rules.
“If you think about it you kinda have to act a little shady,” said Renaissance (N.Y.) five-star combo guard Jalen Lecque, who recently had Calipari in for an in-home visit. “That’s harder for me because I’m not like that at all. That takes some getting used to.”
To be fair, the rule was put in place to help the players simply focus on playing and limit the distraction that can be the recruiting process.
Ironically, most players contend that it’s more distracting remembering not to speak in passing to who are in essence their friends.
“It can be a little awkward because we talk to these guys all the time and have relationships with them,” said PSA Cardinals (N.Y.) five-star point guard Cole Anthony. “You just have to give them the head-nod and keep it moving.”
That’s especially hard for Wiseman, who considers Hardaway “family” after playing for him in AAU and winning a state title with him at Memphis East (Tenn.) last month.
Hardaway was hired at Memphis three days after winning his third-straight state title at East.
“I have to remind myself sometime that I can’t talk to him all the time,” Wiseman said. “In a way, it’s pretty weird, but, at the same time, it’s not as weird because we’ve still got a strong bond and we’re still family. We just can’t talk at events.”
To combat the lack of communication, coaching staffs came decked out in their team gear and meticulously placed themselves in the most visible spots inside the gym.
City Rocks (N.Y.) guard Joe Girard III said it’s, at the very least, odd not to be able to speak to the coaches who were just eating with you at your dinner table the week before only to get on the team bus after games and have dozens of text messages from the same coaches he just pretended weren’t there.
There are no limits on texts or phone calls from coaches beginning June 15 after a player’s sophomore season.
“That part is pretty funny,” said Girard, who kept large contingents of coaches courtside at his games after averaging 50 points a game during the high school season. “It almost feels a little rude, but, hey, rules are rules I guess.”
Lecque said the best course of action is to block out what’s prohibited or even permitted and “just focus on what has them calling you in the first place.”
“You just have to forget about everything and play,” Lecque said. “That’s the only way you’ll be at your best. That way the coaches will keep calling.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY