- Our freshman intro series concludes with the nation's top-ranked recruit, James Wiseman of Memphis.
In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. In 2019, six of the top 10 NBA draft picks were one-and-done, and eight of the 14 lottery picks overall. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond. Just look at last year’s group of rookies we profiled: Tre Jones, Ashton Hagans, Jalen Smith and Devon Dotson lead a whopping 12 former 2018 five-stars back for a sophomore season.
With all of that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball for 2019–20 and breaking down the impact those players could have. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. Last up is the No. 1 overall recruit, Memphis's James Wiseman. You can view all of the 2019 profiles here.
What He Means for Memphis's Recruiting Class
The centerpiece of architect Penny Hardaway’s rebuild in Memphis is the city’s golden child, the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit and the state of Tennessee’s own seven-foot center James Wiseman. Initially expecting to sign with Kentucky, Wiseman instead opted to reunite with his former high school coach in Hardaway—with whom he won a high school championship just last year. Memphis’s Wiseman-led, seven-man crew amounts to the country’s top-ranked recruiting class, comprised exclusively of four and five-star recruits that fill the floor with potential at every position. Joining Wiseman is 6’9” five-star forward Precious Achiuwa (No. 15) and five four-star freshmen, including combo guard Boogie Ellis (No. 38), who decommitted from Duke to join the program, power forward DJ Jeffries (No. 51), shooting guard Lester Quinones (No. 58), center Malcolm Dandridge (No. 104) and combo guard Damion Baugh (No. 113). The class boasts both depth and talent, with Wiseman headlining Hardaway’s efforts to bring the program back to prominence.
How He Fits
The Tigers are young but the metric tons of talent they are bringing in with this recruiting class still spark Hardaway’s hopeful revival. Memphis lost five of its top-six scorers from last season and nine players in total (five graduated and four transferred). With a sole upperclassman on the squad—senior forward Isaiah Maurice—the team’s two five-star big men, Wiseman and Achiuwa, have a heavy load to shoulder from the start. Wiseman’s tenure as the team’s leader began when he became the first five-star coup in the recruiting class and set the tone for what was to come, and it won’t end until he departs for the draft as an all-but-guaranteed lottery pick. Much will be asked of the local hero, but he has a deep supporting cast who should help him shine as the Tigers’ star.
Wiseman brings a world of upside to Memphis. The Gatorade and Morgan Wootten National Player of the Year led his high school Mustangs to a 25–9 record and a trip to the state Class-AAA championship while averaging over 25 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks per game as a senior. At 7’1”, 240-pounds, Wiseman brings a big, college-level body to Memphis but moves with impressive mobility and fluidity for his size and is an impressive all-around athlete. He excels running the floor, can create his own offense, can power through traffic to create easy looks and is capable of altering shots on the move and still sinking them. He dominates the paint but also brings a decently developed jumper which has especially improved from mid-range. The southpaw is more skilled than most big men and is unusually agile, although he should be a bit better on the boards than he’s shown so far. He’s a decent rebounder and shot blocker, but given his physical gifts and his talent, he should be stronger in both areas. Defensively, the big man moves well, is smart, has good instincts and is an imposing physical presence for opponents to try to operate around. He’s an undisputed two-way boost for the Tigers. His biggest weakness is a reputation for inconsistent efforts, but a step up to the college level may temper that. With a 7’6” wingspan and 9’3” standing reach, when Wiseman does play hard and to the best of his ability, he’s almost unstoppable.
Wiseman is the building block around which Memphis’s newly fashioned frontcourt will be constructed, and he'll have fellow five-star Achiuwa, a small forward, and 6’7” DJ Jeffries anchoring him. The trio have to replace the production lost with the departures of top-two scorers Jeremiah Martin and Kyvon Davenport (who doubled as the team’s leading rebounder). Forward Isaiah Maurice, one of the few familiar faces from last season’s team, and Dandridge can help back Wiseman up. Louisville transfer Lance Thomas, a redshirt sophomore forward who sat out last season, will also provide relief up front. With plenty of incoming talent in the Tigers’ backcourt in Baugh, Ellis, Quiones and a dash of experience in the form of returning starter Tyler Harris, sophomore guard Alex Lomax and redshirt freshmen guards Ryan Boyce and Jayden Hardaway, the guard group looks set up for success as well.
Importance to Memphis's Success/Team Outlook
The prize recruit in one of the best classes in the country, Wiseman’s ceiling elevated Memphis’s own instantaneously and helped Hardaway’s rebuilding efforts. His impact goes beyond the immediate, boosting the Tigers’ standing as the program tries to secure future talent. One season after returning to revive his alma mater, Hardaway brought in just the puzzle pieces that should push Memphis in a positive direction. He was able to take his team to its first postseason appearance in four seasons with a talent-depleted roster left by former coach Tubby Smith, and now, with the incoming 2019 talent, Hardaway has the personnel in place to go even further. This young Wiseman-led squad should be able compete with college basketball’s elite, as long as its combined lack of experience doesn’t prove crippling. The hype around this incoming class certainly brings some pressure, but even factoring in all the anticipation, it would be a disappointment if Hardaway’s crew didn’t at least give Houston and Cincinnati a run for the AAC crown.