MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Before James Wiseman announced his commitment to the University of Memphis in the East High auditorium Tuesday morning, before he set this entire city ablaze in excitement, he sat on an otherwise empty bench in a gym outside Atlanta with Penny Hardaway.
It was May 12, 2017, and Wiseman, the No. 1 prospect in the 2019 recruiting class according to ESPN, had just joined Team Penny for its second Nike Elite Youth Basketball League event of the offseason. But Nike officials wouldn’t allow Wiseman to play yet after switching teams so abruptly.
So he and Hardaway instead spent an entire weekend seated next to each other in the stands, during Team Penny warmups and games. Hardaway would point out people and plays on the court, and Wiseman would nod back.
Perhaps neither realized then that it marked the beginning of a relationship that might now take Memphis basketball to places it has never been before.
Because by the next month, Wiseman began to show up at East High’s summer league games.
By August, rumors swirled that Wiseman and his family would be moving from Nashville to play for Hardaway at East.
By the beginning of the 2017-18 basketball season, Hardaway began fighting on Wiseman’s behalf in court against the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association.
By the end of the season, they’d won a state championship together.
And by last March, Wiseman became the focal point of Hardaway’s mission to bring back Memphis basketball.