The James Wiseman College Experience, all three games of it, is over. All that remains now for Memphis is the NCAA investigation.
What a farce.
This is what the Tigers got for their recruiting coup in signing the No. 1 prospect from the high school class of 2019: a college cameo, an NCAA suspension and very likely some allegations of major rules violations. Hope it was worth it, Penny Hardaway.
Wiseman dropped his bombshell news via Instagram on Thursday, saying that he is withdrawing from school and will work out in preparation for the NBA draft. He’d served seven games of a 12-game suspension for accepting impermissible benefits—moving expenses from Hardaway for his family to relocate from Nashville to Memphis when he was a high school player and Hardaway was a high school coach.
This decision helps no one, though it does further expose the disdain top prospects have for college basketball.
It certainly does not help Memphis, which made Wiseman the focal point of its recruiting efforts and then waged a suicidal fight with the NCAA in early November when evidence was presented that he was ineligible. The school sneered at the NCAA recommendation to sit Wiseman, playing him three games before folding its cards and benching him. That act of defiance is likely to lead to a major NCAA problem.
It does not help college basketball, a starless and rudderless ship at the moment. In addition to Wiseman sitting out, there is speculation that the No. 4 recruit in the 2019 signing class, point guard Cole Anthony of North Carolina, may not return after his estimated 4-6 weeks on the shelf following a knee procedure. The No. 6 recruit in the class, R.J. Hampton, is playing professionally in New Zealand.
And it really doesn’t help Wiseman in any tangible way. Sure, he can theoretically avoid injury—although something can happen anytime he takes the court for a workout. I suppose it’s possible that he could lose draft stock between now and June, but given the barren landscape of the likely crop of 2020 draftees it would seem difficult for his position to be drastically diminished.
He could have helped himself, in terms of marketability, by playing the rest of the season and taking Memphis on a potential NCAA Tournament run. Zion Williamson sure didn’t hurt his stock by playing a full year at Duke in 2018-19. Williamson already was a known brand coming into college, but he became an even stronger one while playing for the Blue Devils.
Instead, Wiseman is just the latest heralded prospect to make zero impact on the college game on his way to the pros. He follows Michael Porter Jr. (injury at Missouri), Markelle Fultz (played on a 22-loss Washington team), Ben Simmons (a 19-14 season at LSU) through the revolving door. All of them chose non-blueblood programs and did nothing to elevate them.
It must be noted that none of them wanted to be in college to begin with. This is the credibility problem the sport faces, as it tries to maintain relevance in a cynical era where everyone just wants a fast and risk-free road to the pros. More players are looking for either a way around the college route or a path of least resistance through it.
This is all the more reason why the NBA must (and almost certainly will) change its age-limit rule and allow players to be drafted straight out of high school once more. It will spare schools the academic charade while freeing the talent to go where it wants to go all along.
And it will decrease the likelihood of sideshow situations like Wiseman and Memphis created for one another.
Heck, the Tigers are actually undefeated since Wiseman was sidelined, including a victory at Tennessee. Despite the fan base thinking that life would be so much better with him, perhaps the team and school can survive without him.
Perhaps the entire sport can survive without him. The three-game James Wiseman experience, which yielded two wins over lightweight opponents and a loss to Oregon, will fade quickly enough.
By mid-January, when he was scheduled to return, everyone will have moved on. By March, nobody will much remember that he ever suited up.
The only time anyone will remember will be when the NCAA allegations come down, sometime later in 2020. There is likely a large price ahead for Memphis to pay, after getting so little for its investment.