UK Men's Basketball

James Wiseman might be the best big man in the country, and UK is the early favorite

Penny Hardaway talks about top UK recruit James Wiseman’s

Memphis East Head Coach Penny Hardaway talks about his star player, top UK recruiting target James Wiseman.
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Memphis East Head Coach Penny Hardaway talks about his star player, top UK recruiting target James Wiseman.

Kentucky basketball fans who have followed the recruitment of James Wiseman were hoping to get him on UK’s campus for next season.

That doesn’t sound like it’s going to happen. Wiseman dismissed the rumors of a possible reclassification to 2018 after his game at the Marshall County Hoop Fest on Sunday, saying he was sticking in the 2019 class and adding that he didn’t even know how the rumors got started.

The good news for the Wildcats is that they appear to be in excellent position to ultimately land Wiseman’s commitment.

“I’ve got Kentucky visiting me a lot,” Wiseman said when asked to assess his recruitment as a whole. “Coach Calipari has been talking to me, so it’s really just been Kentucky reaching out to me the most. It’s been good. He’s been texting me almost every day. Calling me, just checking on me to see how I am.”

Does that mean UK is the clear favorite in his recruitment?

“I still have to weigh my options, but, yeah, they’re up there,” he said.

Wiseman pointed out that an assistant coach from Kansas was at Sunday’s game and that North Carolina head coach Roy Williams has also been in regular contact.

But UK looks to be way out in front for Wiseman, now in his first season at Memphis East (Tenn.) and ranked by Scout.com and ESPN as the No. 1 overall player in the junior class.

All 10 predictions on Wiseman’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page have gone in favor of Kentucky.

247Sports director of recruiting Evan Daniels is also picking UK, and it’s the only Crystal Ball prediction that he has logged for a player in the 2019 class. Daniels is admittedly cautious about making such predictions.

“I went with Kentucky because they targeted him early on and prioritized him as much — if not more — than anyone,” he told the Herald-Leader. “Heck, they sent an assistant to Argentina for him. They were the only team to do that. It’s early, but from outside looking in, I think they are the leader.”

UK assistant coach Joel Justus traveled to Argentina over the summer to watch Wiseman in the FIBA U16 tournament there. Wiseman won a gold medal at the event, and Justus stayed in regular contact when they returned home to the United States.

During the first few days of the fall recruiting period, Calipari made the trip to Memphis to meet with Wiseman and extend a UK scholarship offer. The 6-foot-11 power forward was the first player from the 2019 class to receive such an offer.

A few weeks later, he visited Lexington for Big Blue Madness.

“The atmosphere was crazy,” Wiseman said. “The fans were just crazy for the players. So, for me to go there, it’d be great.”

His junior season is off to a rocky start.

Wiseman moved from Nashville to Memphis over the summer and was set to play for Memphis East (Tenn.) coach and NBA legend Penny Hardaway this season. Instead, he was ruled ineligible due to the circumstances of the transfer. A couple of weeks ago, a second ruling allowed Wiseman to return to the court on a temporary basis.

The final ruling in the case will come down Dec. 13, and that will settle whether Wiseman is able to play the rest of the season with Memphis East.

“It’s been up and down,” Hardaway said. “If I was his age, I would be thinking, ‘Man, what’s going on? I just want to play. I didn’t do anything wrong.’ It’s been … like a roller-coaster.

“It’s just tough watching kids go through that, and you just wish the best for them and hope the verdict comes out in their favor.”

Wiseman scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Sunday’s game, leading Memphis East to an 82-66 victory over Aspire Academy and fellow top-five recruit Charles Bassey. Wiseman’s shots weren’t falling early, but he scored some big baskets down the stretch and made a huge difference on the defensive end throughout the game.

Hardaway said the energy Wiseman showed — even when things weren’t going his way offensively — is typical of the budding star, who won’t even turn 17 years old until late March but is already regarded as arguably the best big man in high school basketball.

“I’m just so happy that he’s that way,” Hardaway said. “That’s natural for him. Nobody has to really push him. He’s going to go out there and work his butt off, because … he wants to make it to the NBA. So he knows that he has to start that process now.”

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