The recruitment of top basketball prospect James Wiseman is unlikely to be decided for another several months, but Kentucky will get the first major shot to make a big impression.
UK is scheduled to host Wiseman — a 7-footer from Nashville — for the first official visit of his recruitment this weekend. Around this time last year, the Wildcats made Wiseman the first player from the class of 2019 to earn a UK scholarship offer. His standing at the top of John Calipari’s recruiting board hasn’t wavered since, and neither has his place at the top of the 247Sports rankings.
That list was updated again late last month. Wiseman was again placed in the No. 1 spot.
“I think with James, when you’re evaluating him as a prospect, it starts with the physical gifts that he has,” national analyst Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “He’s 7 feet tall, 7-6 wingspan, mobile, athletic. He impacts the game on both ends of the floor. There’s more offensive potential there. He can get better as a shot blocker, but he still protects the rim.
“I just think there’s a high upside.”
Wiseman’s recruiting time line, which was revealed last week, could work out well for UK.
The 17-year-old’s recruitment has been framed for the past several months as a strict Kentucky vs. Memphis battle.
The Wildcats made him a priority far earlier than they typically do with even the most highly touted prospects. UK assistant coach Joel Justus tracked him during a USA Basketball event overseas two summers ago, then made initial contact on behalf of the program.
Calipari moved quickly to form a personal relationship with Wiseman and his family, and that early interest had seemingly paid off. Kentucky was seen as the clear favorite in Wiseman’s recruitment at the beginning of the year.
Then Penny Hardaway, the former NBA star who coached Wiseman in high school and on the Nike circuit, landed the head coaching job at Memphis, and things got complicated.
Since it became clear that Hardaway would be the coach at Memphis — the city Wiseman is now living in as he finishes his high school career — the predictions started to turn in the direction of the Tigers.
The 12 most recent picks on Wiseman’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page are all in favor of Memphis, which now holds a two-thirds majority over UK there. One of the holdouts is Daniels, who is standing by his nearly year-old prediction that Wiseman will ultimately be a Wildcat.
“I have no plans to change that pick anytime soon,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader over the weekend.
The timing is interesting. After an interview with Wiseman’s mother last week, Daniels broke the news of the star recruit’s official visit plans and overall timetable.
Donzaleigh Artis told Daniels that her son had set up official visits to Kentucky (this weekend), Kansas (Sept. 28), Vanderbilt (Oct. 12) and Florida State (Oct. 26).
The obvious omission from that list was Memphis.
Wiseman still has one official visit left unaccounted for — and he can realistically visit Memphis’ nearby campus just about whenever he wants — but leaving the Tigers off his initial list of trips raised some eyebrows.
“I don’t think the news was necessarily good for Memphis,” Daniels said. “I don’t think it was crushing. Obviously, they have a prior relationship that others can’t compete with, in terms of Penny having coached him. But the further that he gets from being coached by him, I guess you could see that as a disadvantage. But they’re still in the race. And I think Donzaleigh’s point was, ‘We’re going to consider these other schools, and we want to be recruited.’”
Wiseman could very well end up at Memphis at the end of this process, but the newly confirmed timetable of a spring decision, while not surprising, probably isn’t good for the Tigers.
As Daniels pointed out, once Wiseman is ready to make his college decision, he will likely be more than a year removed from playing under Hardaway at Memphis East High School.
“I mean, obviously if you’re Memphis and you previously coached the kid and you thought you could get it done early …” Daniels said, implying that any delayed timetable was more negative than positive for the Tigers.
Waiting until the spring will also give Wiseman a chance to see how Hardaway does in his first season as a college coach. The 7-footer — and many of his former teammates — have repeatedly praised Hardaway for his coaching ability at the high school and travel-circuit levels, but the biggest question going into this season is how he’ll fare against college competition.
If Memphis fizzles in year one of the Hardaway era, that probably won’t help with its recruitment of Wiseman, especially with UK expected to contend for a national championship this season.
Locking up Wiseman before he was able to go on official visits and watch one more season of college basketball — while the Tigers were riding a wave of recruiting momentum — would have been the obvious best-case scenario for the Memphis program.
Wiseman’s mother has made it crystal clear an early commitment won’t happen.
“He’s not going to decide until the spring,” Daniels said. “It’s going to be late, late spring. They’re going to do their homework and go through this deal.
“That was one thing that was key in this whole thing. They want to go through the process. They want to see the schools. They want to meet the coaches. They want to meet the players. They want to go through the process and be recruited and it not just be a Kentucky-Memphis thing.”