In the past few years, Penny Hardaway financially helped James Wiseman and his family move from Nashville to Memphis, won a state championships with Wiseman on his roster, became the head coach at Memphis, secured the No. 1 recruiting class in the country (which included Wiseman), stood up to the NCAA in defense of Wiseman, will only lose Wiseman for a total of 12 games this season, and was able to escape any punishment from the organization that he basically gave the middle finger to a few weeks ago.
Penny Hardaway beat the system, and the system doesn’t even know it.
Penny Hardaway seeing that the NCAA will let James Wiseman play during conference play and the NCAA Tournament pic.twitter.com/lwmGKUeJp4
— The U.S. of NCAA (@theUSofNCAA) November 20, 2019
For those of you that haven’t been paying attention to college basketball this season, this week the NCAA ruled that Wiseman, the presumed No. 1 pick in next summer’s NBA Draft, will have to sit out 11 more games for accepting impermissible benefits, as Hardaway gave Wiseman’s family $11,500 in moving expenses when the family located to Memphis during his prep days.
The NCAA is also making Wiseman pay back the $11,500 to any charity of his choice. I’d encourage the Wiseman family to set up a charity of their own and send the check there.
But no matter how you may feel about Memphis and Hardaway’s rebellion against the NCAA, or how once again a kid is being penalized for something that adults did (Penny gets 0 games, Wiseman gets 12), the reality that this situation benefits Hardaway is being overlooked.
“I’m with my guys and I have my guys’ backs. That’s what’s been lost in this whole thing,” Hardaway told the media last week in Memphis when asked if he had any regrets about playing Wiseman despite the NCAA warning them not to.
Who wouldn’t want to play for him?
Memphis F Precious Achiuwa on Penny Hardaway's support of James Wiseman:
"It gives me a sense of trust. Just knowing this dude's gonna fight for you. Anytime, any day, no matter what…this dude's gonna have your back no matter how hard the times are."
This quote is so key. pic.twitter.com/pjLKcQStK3
— Jessica Benson (@Local24Jessica) November 15, 2019
When Hardaway landed the No. 1 recruiting class last summer, it was completely out of the norm. Hardaway was heading into only his second season as a college head coach and somehow collected a seven-man recruiting class that featured six players in the top 100. It proved that the allure of Penny Hardaway was real. But the way he’s handled the Wiseman situation is also proving that he’s loyal.
“It gives me a sense of trust. Just knowing this dude’s gonna fight for you. Anytime, any day, no matter what…this dude’s gonna have your back no matter how hard the times are,” said Memphis freshman Precious Achiuwa, who is Hardaway’s second highest-ranked recruit behind Wiseman.
Freshman forward D.J. Jeffries even described the NCAA’s treatment of Wiseman as “petty.”
Damage is usually done when the NCAA hands down its punishments. And while playing without Wiseman until January 12th won’t be easy, it feels like it has brought the team, the university, and the city even closer together. Because when an entire administration bucks at the NCAA, unification is the only result.
The NCAA has helped Hardaway more than a winning season could ever have. Because when Hardaway hits the recruiting circuit he can now walk into the homes of five-star athletes with actual proof that he’s the kind of coach that will support and defend his players, no matter the potential threat.
Confidence can breed potential success.
“What do I know? I know when I have something special. When I see this group in action, see their abilities, I know what’s at stake and I know what’s out there,” Hardaway told The Athletic back in October. “The teams like Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, all the usual suspects. I’ve studied the film. I know who they are, but when I look at this group, I just say to myself, ‘We’re going to win a national championship.’ That’s what I know.”
With over 20 weeks remaining until a new king of college basketball is crowned, it would be crazy to count any ranked team out this early in the season. And if the Tigers are eventually able to pull off what Hardaway predicted, it would be a historic run, given that six of their seven top players are all freshmen.
But if Memphis does make a magical run in March, it’ll be because the NCAA gave them something even greater to play for.
Winning a national championship is always the end goal, but doing it in spite of the NCAA would be the ultimate “one shining moment.”