NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — James Wiseman will not appear in the NBA for at least two more years, but for a few fleeting minutes Thursday morning, he was treated like he was already there. The country’s top-rated high school prospect needed a massage after his team had lost to the Oakland Soldiers on the first day of the Nike Peach Jam, when he was ejected for picking up two technical fouls and stormed out of the gym. An assistant to Wiseman later pulled out a training table in a hallway of the cramped community recreation center, which buzzed as the biggest recruiting showcase of the summer began in earnest.
Wiseman plopped down his 7-foot frame down and tucked his arms — the ones that extend to a 7-foot-4 wingspan — under his chin. The trainer stretched and rubbed Wiseman’s legs for nearly a half-hour. His family looked on. Reporters huddled around. The country’s top college coaches peeked as they walked by.
Wiseman has already trimmed his future options. He is, of course, considering his hometown Memphis Tigers, which now feature his old high school coach, Penny Hardaway, at the helm. And he also plans to seriously give a look to Kentucky, the one-and-done factory that had Coach John Calipari and two other assistants watching Wiseman alongside Hardaway and Memphis assistant Mike Miller on Friday night.
But for a few moments Thursday, after Wiseman had finished his rubdown and gained his composure, he also pondered what it would be like if he had another option — skipping college altogether to enter the NBA draft straight out of high school. That thought came to the forefront earlier this week when NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the league is ready to change the NBA’s draft age limit back to 18. But that reform isn’t likely to happen until at least 2021, which leaves players such as Wiseman, who will likely be one of the top prospects in the 2020 draft, advocating for a choice they will never have.
“I believe in my academics first. But, I mean, if you’re developed enough to be able to make that jump, then you should do it. Because that’s you’re dream, right? So why not just get there early?” Wiseman said.
Wiseman will have to wait. He plays now for the thrills he felt on Wednesday night, when he faced off against big man Vernon Carey Jr., who has challenged Wiseman for the mantle of the country’s top recruit and figures to be in the conversation as a top-five pick in 2020. Those players would potentially be lottery picks next June if they had the option of declaring right out of high school — especially considering how weak that draft appears to be a year out. Both will likely be well into their professional careers by the time the potential change is implemented. Carey could be among the final one-and-done players of the era. He believes he should be able to choose.
“I would probably give it a thought, but I would probably go to college for one year if I had the choice,” said Carey, a 6-foot-10, 275-pound center who is considering Duke, Miami and Michigan State. “Honestly, I think kids should [have the choice].”
The Wiseman-Carey matchup drew an overflowing crowd Wednesday night, with Wiseman’s Memphis-based Bluff City Legends edging Carey’s Nike Florida Elite, 70-69. Wiseman finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Carey posted 21 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks and four steals. It was a blockbuster clash with the country’s top coaches looking on, some frothing at the player they are about to acquire — probably just for a year and apparently just in time before the NBA changes its model.
“It’s ideal,” said Carey’s teammate, guard Noah Farrakhan, who is rated as the 29th-best player in the class of 2019 by ESPN. “If somebody is good enough to go straight to the NBA, then definitely, do it.”