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The NBA Draft Can Wait: First, James Wiseman Is Going to Memphis

The top-ranked recruit will play for Penny Hardaway before likely taking his talents to the NBA, where he’s projected to be the no. 1 pick in the 2020 draft. He talks about modeling his game after Giannis Antetokounmpo and asking Kevin Durant for advice.

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James Wiseman, one of the best high school basketball players in the country, is tailor-made for the modern NBA. The 18-year-old 7-footer is coming of age in an era when players with his size and skill set can do more than ever before. Wiseman is probably a one-and-done college player, a term that is about to become obsolete. The Memphis native is staying home to play college ball for NBA legend Penny Hardaway at the University of Memphis, the prize recruit in one of the best classes in the country. He’s widely projected to be the top pick in next year’s NBA draft and has a fascinating role in the sporting universe, which is why I wanted to talk to him while he was in Los Angeles to receive the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year award. We talked about which players he models his game after, asking Kevin Durant for advice, and his decision to play for Hardaway.


The game changes so fast, and at 7 feet, you’d play differently if you were born in 1980, or 1990, than you would now. Where is the future of the big man headed?

Back then, it was like back-to-the-basket type of big man, but now, in this generation, everybody’s dribbling. We’ve got Giannis [Antetokounmpo], we’ve got different kinds of players that can dribble and shoot. So I’ve just been working on my game, trying to get it to that level.

Who do you watch?

Giannis and Anthony Davis a lot—their agility and ballhandling and their playmaking ability.

How do you build that agility, especially off the court?

Doing a lot of rope exercises, a lot of resistance bands, working on my lateral quickness and studying a lot of film.

What’s the best experience you’ve had as a top prospect, meeting so many different people?

I met Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. I met Kobe Bryant at [a basketball camp in Los Angeles]. He taught us a lot about playing basketball and really just not to give up on ourselves and to keep going.

What about Durant?

He really broke down my game. We were actually studying ... we spent all this time on YouTube, and he was teaching me different stuff and telling me to keep working and just don’t give up.

Speaking of Durant, he’s in the news for switching teams. You’ll be entering an NBA in which players are a lot more empowered than they were in eras past. What do you think that means for you?

Just have a courageous mind, ask a lot of questions. I go to Instagram [and ask] basketball questions.

You ask current players questions?

Mhmm. It’s really just to prepare myself. [I] ask questions from RJ Barrett, one of my favorite players, and my friends. And Kevin Durant, my favorite player.

What kind of questions would you ask KD?

How do I approach the game? What do I need to do or what do I need to work on? How do you approach the game? Simple details.

You were perhaps the top recruit in the country and you chose Memphis, to stay home. Why?

[Memphis assistant and former NBA player] Mike Miller, Penny Hardaway—they’re both ex-NBA legends. I’m trying to get into the NBA, so just trying to learn as much as possible, trying to develop tremendously as a player.

You got recruited by two former NBA stars: Hardaway and Miller. What specifically did you like about Mike as a recruiter?

He comes to every game. Every high school game I came to, Penny was there; at the time [former Memphis assistant] Sam Mitchell was there as well. [They] really played a big part of my recruitment.

The one-and-done rule might be on its way out soon. How would your path have been different if it didn’t exist?

I feel I should go to college for one year to mature as a player and as a person. I would have gone to college for sure for one year, even if they didn’t have the one-and-done rule.

What are you watching right now?

I would say Rick and Morty and Stranger Things, my favorite. I just binge-watched it a week ago.

Why Rick and Morty?

Really just the weirdness of it and how, I mean, it’s just interesting to me. It’s kind of weird and awkward, but that’s the funniest part.

The weirdness?

Yeah, plus it’s very awkward. But I’m a weird and awkward person, so I enjoy it a lot, and I understand what they’re saying. It’s funny, actually.

When you say you’re a weird and awkward person, what do you mean?

Off the court, I read a lot of books. I really do what a normal kid does.

What kind of books?

Business-industry books, like Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill, books like that. Just on how to think like a businessman. How to invest, how to grow, mentally. Just to be like, whenever I put my mind to something, I’ll be able to do it and really learn the business aspect of it.

Before you get NBA paychecks.

Yes, developing a mind-set. That’s why I read a lot of books, so I can get a lot of information. At the end of the day, I’m trying to prepare myself for the real world.