UK Recruiting

National analysts explain switching James Wiseman picks from UK to Memphis

James Wiseman is arguably the best overall prospect in the class of 2019.
James Wiseman is arguably the best overall prospect in the class of 2019. tglantz@thestate.com

Every word James Wiseman says about his recruitment over the next several months will be closely followed. Every move will be analyzed. Every possible hint will be dissected.

Wiseman — a 7-footer from Nashville — might have more long-term potential than anyone in high school basketball, and that makes him a subject of intense focus in college basketball circles.

The tough part for interested recruiting analysts, college coaches and diehard fans: he doesn’t say much about his own recruitment. And hints will be hard to come by.

Still, the national experts are asked to make predictions, so make them they must. Anything Wiseman related, for the time being, should probably be taken with the understanding that things can (and likely will) change.

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A little more than two months ago, Rivals.com national analysts Eric Bossi and Corey Evans were tasked with making predictions for the very best uncommitted players in the 2019 class. At that time, they both picked Kentucky for Wiseman, who last fall became the first prospect in his class to receive a Wildcats scholarship offer and has remained at the top of John Calipari’s recruiting board ever since.

This week, the Rivals.com team was again asked to make predictions on the uncommitted five-star players in the 2019 class. Bossi and Evans both picked Memphis, which hired Wiseman’s former coach, Penny Hardaway, as its head coach back in March.

What gives?

“It’s a fluid situation,” Bossi told the Herald-Leader on Wednesday. “The Wiseman family and the group around him isn’t really giving up a lot. I know that they’re trying to make it clear that they’re considering other places. … But it’s hard to see him legitimately going anywhere but Kentucky or Memphis. And now it comes down to: OK, how much sway does Penny Hardaway have in this versus what John Calipari can do?

“And no one is counting John Calipari out. We’d be kind of stupid to do that, right? His reputation and his results over the years speak for themselves.”

Bossi, though, pointed to Hardaway’s relationship with Wiseman as something that Calipari can’t quite match. The former NBA star coached Wiseman both with his Team Penny squad last summer and this past season at Memphis East High School, where Wiseman will finish his prep career despite Hardaway’s departure.

“When you have that kind of relationship, it’s hard to discount that,” Bossi said. “I know there’s one side that says, ‘Hey, if he was going to go to Memphis and he was so close with Penny Hardaway, why wouldn’t he have committed already?’ But, also, if he wasn’t going to go there, why wouldn’t he have eliminated him, to spare (Penny) the trouble?

“With what information can be obtained right now, I tend to just lean ever-so-slightly in the direction of Memphis.”

No. 1-ranked basketball recruit James Wiseman discusses the Memphis vs. Kentucky battle that is brewing in his recruitment.

Evans also sees the Wiseman recruitment as one that could still go either way. He said UK’s increased efforts in the recruitments of post players like Vernon Carey, Zeke Nnaji and Oscar Tshiebwe to start the fall recruiting period could be read as possible signs, though Evans also acknowledges that UK will need to land multiple frontcourt players from the 2019 class.

“It’s kind of reading the tea leaves,” he told the Herald-Leader. “The Nnaji offer. The interest in Oscar. The heavier pursuit of Vernon Carey. You think about things like that. But, I mean, really, it’s a guessing game with Wiseman. No one really knows right now, but there have been a lot of whispers in the positive direction for Memphis.”

Analysts everywhere are expecting those whispers — and nothing much louder than that — to continue for the foreseeable future. Wiseman and his family have said that he will not make a college decision until the spring.

“Just looking back in recent history, I could see it flip-flopping back and forth,” Evans said. “And this is John Calipari with a prospect that he really, really wants. So I’m never going to discount Kentucky when it comes to a prospect that’s so heavily favored by Calipari.”

“This thing has a long way to go,” Bossi said. “And it’s something that I wouldn’t be surprised if myself or anybody else waffles back and forth between Memphis and Kentucky over these next seven or eight months that it’s probably going to take him to make a choice.”

As UK and Memphis battle for Wiseman’s commitment, the 17-year-old prospect will be battling fellow power forward Vernon Carey for the No. 1 spot in the class of 2019 rankings.

Rivals.com updated its rankings this week and kept Carey — a 6-10 prospect from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and also a major UK target — in the top position.

“It’s a very close race,” Bossi said, noting that — if the rankings were solely up to him — Wiseman would be No. 1. He said it’s been a hotly debated topic among the Rivals.com staff, and those discussions will continue for the remainder of the 2019 cycle.

“Vernon, I think, is the more polished of the two prospects. More consistent shooter. Maybe a little bit more skill. He’s certainly stronger,” Bossi said. “James is that guy where you can kind of see it coming. The skill has improved quite a bit. He’s gotten bigger. He’s started to add some strength. He’s producing a little bit more consistently.

“And he’s not ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country by people because of strictly potential. He’s certainly done plenty of things and has a body of work to speak to him being ranked so highly.”

One example: Wiseman outplayed Carey on the opening night of the Nike Peach Jam event in July, one of the most-anticipated matchups on the summer basketball circuit. Calipari and Hardaway were both in the stands. Bossi was there, too, later writing that it was one of the most impressive performances he’d witnessed from a big man at the marquee event.

“That was a different James Wiseman than any of us had ever seen,” Bossi said this week. “And if we get to see that guy on a consistent basis, then you’re talking about the difference between an NBA player and a guy who could be a perennial all-star.”

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