James Wiseman

Memphis bringing a big-time player and a big controversy to the PKI

Memphis bringing a big-time player and a big controversy to the PKI

The PK Invitational is going to feature an entire level of intrigue that nobody could have seen coming when it unfolds Tuesday night in Moda Center.

The University of Memphis is coming to Portland to meet the Ducks in the 6 p.m. opening game and Oregon State takes on Oklahoma in the 8 o’clock nightcap of the doubleheader.

And Memphis is bringing a very big controversy and a big-time player who will likely be in uniform for the Tigers against the Ducks – one of the top prospects in the country, James Wiseman, a 7-1, 240-pound freshman center.

Wiseman has a group of sharp lawyers on his side and the University of Memphis, too, after the NCAA had declared him ineligible for accepting money from a Memphis booster.

And that booster? It was current Memphis coach and former NBA all-star Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.

Stay with me here, because this is a tangled web that seems to be what holds college basketball together these days. Hardaway was the head coach at Memphis East High School, where he won two Tennessee state championships. As you may guess, Hardaway was also an AAU coach in the summer, where he presumably met Wiseman. After Wiseman’s junior year of high school in Nashville, Hardaway reportedly provided $11,500 to Wiseman’s mother for moving expenses, so that her son could play for Hardaway in Memphis.

Hardaway had no connection to the university – except he had made a $1 million donation to the school’s athletic department in 2008. Which, in the eyes of the NCAA, classifies him as a booster of the school. Which means he can’t be handing money out to the mother of a recruit.

The NCAA made its ruling and the university launched its own investigation alongside the one by the NCAA. And the school disagrees with the proposition that Hardaway was a “booster” and believes the player to be eligible. They suited him up for a game last week and he was spotted boarding the team plane for Portland Sunday night. A couple of local Memphis lawyers have signed on to get the case into court and that is supposed to happen next week.

In the meantime, all of college basketball will be watching the Ducks and Tigers – and Wiseman – Tuesday night in Portland, wondering if the kid will end up causing forfeits of any games the Tigers win or leads them to great heights as the No. 1 recruit in the country and the leader of the top recruiting class this season.

The Ducks are undefeated at 2-0 and trying to establish themselves as a tournament threat again.

In the second game Tuesday in the tournament that honors Nike founder Phil Knight, the Beavers and Sooners will also try to get a good jump on what they believe will be promising seasons.