Home Sports Attorney: NCAA rules Memphis star James Wiseman ineligible but judge clears way for him to play – Commercial Appeal

Attorney: NCAA rules Memphis star James Wiseman ineligible but judge clears way for him to play – Commercial Appeal

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James Wiseman, the top prospect in Memphis basketball’s ballyhooed No. 1 recruiting class, was ruled ineligible by the NCAA earlier this week, his Memphis-based attorney, Leslie Ballin announced Friday evening. 

However, in a saga that played out just before the Tigers’ Friday night game against Illinois-Chicago, Ballin said Wiseman was granted an injunction by a Shelby County Judicial Court judge that put the NCAA’s ineligibility decision on hold pending further litigation.

Wiseman then arrived at FedExForum at 5:17 p.m., less than 45 minutes before Memphis was scheduled to tip off its second game of the season and was in the starting lineup.

According to Blake Ballin, another member of Wiseman’s legal team, the NCAA sent a letter deeming Wiseman ineligible right before the Tigers’ season opener against South Carolina State on Tuesday. Wiseman played on Tuesday night.

At issue, Blake Ballin said, is coach Penny Hardaway’s status as a university booster and thousands of dollars the NCAA alleges Hardaway gave to Wiseman’s mother, Donzaleigh Artis, for moving expenses when Wiseman relocated from Nashville to Memphis in the summer of 2017.

According to a statement released by the University of Memphis Friday night, Hardaway “provided $11,500 in moving expenses to assist the Wiseman family in their relocation to Memphis, unbeknownst to James.”  

In conjunction with that move, Wiseman went from playing at Nashville’s Ensworth School to Memphis East High School, which was coached by Hardaway at the time. Wiseman and his family have maintained that they moved to Memphis in order to be closer to the player’s sister, who currently attends the University of Memphis. 

Due to a $1 million donation made by Hardaway in 2008 to help fund the university’s Penny Hardaway Hall of Fame, NCAA bylaws consider Hardaway a booster in perpetuity. 

Wiseman filed a lawsuit Friday against both the NCAA and the University of Memphis in order to restore his eligibility.

According to the lawsuit, between Jan. 25 and May 17, the NCAA and the University of Memphis conducted a joint review of Wiseman’s eligibility and he received NCAA certification “on or about May 29.”

The lawsuit also states that “all information regarding Mr. Hardaway’s financial assistance to Ms. Artis and other points of inquiry were shared with the NCAA prior to certification of Mr. Wiseman’s eligibility.”

On Oct. 31, however, the University of Memphis received a bylaws interpretation from the NCAA alleging that “certain recruiting violations had taken place in order around the summer of 2017,” according to the lawsuit.

“Our position is the NCAA did send a letter in May indicating that James was eligible to play and James relied on that and came to the University of Memphis to play,” Blake Ballin said in an interview. “I’m sure he had other options, but based on that he acted and now they are trying to pull the rug out from under him.”

According to the lawsuit, nobody at the University of Memphis had direct knowledge of the financial assistance provided by Hardaway to Wiseman’s family.

“Particularly given the unique circumstances in this case, we are hopeful for a fair and equitable resolution on James’ eligibility,” university president M. David Rudd said in a statement. “We support James’ right to challenge the NCAA ruling on this matter.

“The University of Memphis has high standards of ethical conduct for all faculty, staff and students, and we take seriously any allegations or conduct that is not aligned with our mission. We will acknowledge and accept any responsibility for proven violations of NCAA bylaws. The University of Memphis firmly supports James, Coach Hardaway and our men’s basketball program in this matter.”

This story will be updated.

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Reach sports writer Jason Munz at jason.munz@commercialappeal.com or on Twitter @munzly.

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