MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The ceiling is low enough that Steph Curry cannot warm up. The walls are paneled and adorned with streamers. The last time we got on, James Wiseman was here, ending a decorated but controversial high school career.
It’s East High, about 15 minutes east of Beale Street, where Wiseman was accompanied by his NBA teammates on Monday night in his humble high school gym to watch his jersey go through the rafters. Much has changed in three years.
“I was showing that when I was younger. Just being able to be here right now is crazy,” Wiseman said after the halftime ceremony, surrounded by a horde of local press. “It means a lot just to be here.”
Wiseman, who spent his last two years in high school here and eventually found himself embroiled in a recruitment scandal after moving to the University of Memphis, arrived after being briefed and headed to a secure area in second level of wooden bleachers overlooking the court. Curry, with a low beanie in addition to his face mask that obscured his identity, was part of a trailer of Warriors teammates and coaches in attendance.
Below, the prep players who walked the lanes with Wiseman as freshmen are now roaming the pitch as seniors against an outclassed opponent from another nearby high school. Wiseman moved here from Nashville and played for Penny Hardaway, the former NBA player and a legend of those areas, who left after a season for work in Memphis. When Wiseman graduated the following year – with honors, Student 4.0 – Hardaway recruited him there.
This is where a teenage Wiseman forged his way to the NBA. It is also, without doubt, the last place where he was regularly in the field. Two state championship banners from 2018 and 2019 represent this period. His newly retired jersey, which he hoisted above his head after receiving it, honors Wiseman’s individual achievements. rookie # 1, draft pick # 2.
It’s sort of a milestone in the NBA to get back to your high school alma mater, where local politicians, community leaders, and a former basketball coach or two will claim credit for your success.
Wiseman enters this stage of his professional career at a precarious moment.
The Warriors made Wiseman the No.2 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, placing a bet on his raw talent and physical attributes despite only playing three games in his only season in Memphis. On Tuesday, when he enters the FedEx Forum – the home of the college hoops in addition to the NBA Grizzlies – Wiseman will take a seat on the bench and take on an angle that has become too usual.
Wiseman hasn’t played a game since April 10, when he tore his meniscus in his right knee as he attempted a dunk against the Houston Rockets in Game 39 of his rookie season. He has still not been cleared of contact in training, leaving the schedule for his return cloudy, nine months after the injury.
“There are a lot of skeptics out there,” Wiseman said. “I’m just working. I’ll win it. That’s all that matters.”
Wiseman’s presence in Memphis was a milestone in itself. He only started traveling with the team on his last road trip, and that happened because the team’s performance director, Dr Rick Celebrini, also made the trip, Coach Steve Kerr said.
Wiseman was “bouncing around practice” on Saturday, before the team left for Memphis, according to Kerr.
“Just being with the team in a full training setting has been very rare,” Kerr said. “I think it’s good to put him back on the team now every day, to integrate him into what we try to do, to get him used to all our actions and our terminology because it’s been a long time since he didn’t play. “
Monday night at East High, police cars lined the crowded parking lot. Security pushed the hopeful attendees back to the door. Eight speakers, from the mayor to Wiseman’s final preparation coach, finally addressed the crowd before handing the microphone to Wiseman.
On one side of Wiseman stood almost all of his Warriors teammates. In front of him were players he won banners with here, including two who went on to play with him in Memphis. Directly to his right was his mother, Donzaleigh Artis (“Mama D,” for program participants), who left her hometown of Nashville to settle here and pursue her son’s basketball dreams.
A local artist presented each of them with a portrait, one of the many gifts Monday evening. Two versions of his No.32 jersey – one brown, one black, with capital letters on the chest – were framed for the school to hang. The 28th of this month in Memphis will be James Wiseman Day, proclaimed a city councilor. After that, the fabric of Wiseman’s time here will live on in the threads of these jerseys.
“I don’t know what to say,” Wiseman said, starting to address the crowd. “I’m a little in shock right now. First of all I want to thank everyone for coming. It’s really a blessing, really a special night to see with my teammates – my teammates from East High over there, Memphis, and of course my Warriors teammates – I’m just blessed to be in that position. “
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