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James Wiseman Scores 17 for Memphis After Fighting Ineligibility


James Wiseman, a top basketball prospect expected to star for the University of Memphis this season, filed a lawsuit against the N.C.A.A. and the university on Friday after the sport’s governing body declared him ineligible to play. A judge quickly issued a temporary restraining order that cleared Wiseman to play for Memphis on Friday night.

The Memphis athletic department said in a statement that the family of Wiseman had accepted $11,500 in moving expenses from Penny Hardaway, a former Memphis and N.B.A. star who is now the university’s coach. The family moved to Memphis from Nashville in 2017, when Wiseman was a high school player. The university said Wiseman did not know about the payment, which would be prohibited by N.C.A.A. rules.

The payment came when Hardaway was coaching at Memphis East High School, where Wiseman finished his high school career. Hardaway became the University of Memphis coach in 2018.

The judge’s order, announced by the university, came hours before Memphis was scheduled to play the University of Illinois-Chicago on Friday night. Wiseman started at center and had 17 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocked shots in a 92-46 Memphis victory.

Wiseman’s lawsuit, filed in Shelby County Chancery Court, listed the N.C.A.A., Memphis and others as defendants. Wiseman’s attorney, Leslie Ballin, did not respond to messages from The New York Times seeking comment.

The N.C.A.A. issued a statement on Friday night that said: “The University of Memphis was notified that James Wiseman is likely ineligible. The university chose to play him and ultimately is responsible for ensuring its student-athletes are eligible to play.”

University officials said they were working with the N.C.A.A.’s staff to restore Wiseman’s playing status.

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

Memphis, ranked No. 14 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25, has the top class of freshmen in the country, led by the 7-foot-1 Wiseman, who is considered a leading candidate to be the top pick in the N.B.A. draft next summer.

Wiseman and Hardaway have known each other for several years, through youth and high school leagues. After Wiseman transferred to Memphis East High School to play for Hardaway, the team won a state title in 2018.

After Friday’s game, Hardaway declined to take questions about the N.C.A.A. and the legal issues. The coach also made clear that Wiseman would continue to play, at least until a Nov. 18 hearing, and that he liked how the freshman had handled a roller-coaster day.

“I’m sure he was a little nervous, but he went out there and played his heart out, had five blocks in the first half,” Hardaway said. “To me, he was still business as usual.”

Wiseman’s eligibility trouble emerged the same day Ohio State announced that another top college athlete, the football player Chase Young, would not play on Saturday against Maryland as university officials investigated a “possible N.C.A.A. issue from 2018.” Young said on Twitter that questions had been raised over a loan he took from a family friend and repaid.

More broadly, the N.C.A.A. is facing pressure, including from lawmakers in California, to overhaul a system in which college athletes cannot be paid beyond the costs of attendance. California passed a law in September to allow athletes to sign individual sponsorship deals and make money from their fame, and the N.C.A.A. last month said it would consider allowing athletes to profit in limited ways.

Jon Rothstein and The Associated Press contributed reporting.


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