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James Wiseman of the Warriors greeted as a hero at HS jersey retirement

By on January 11, 2022 0

MEMPHIS – In the 14 months since he became No.2 in the NBA Draft, Warriors center James Wiseman has suffered trade talks, comparisons to LaMelo Ball and even speculation that he could be a bust.

But as he walked across the floor of the Memphis East High School gymnasium on Monday night all he heard was applause. Tennessee, the only place he lived before moving to San Francisco in November 2020, is still Wiseman’s Heaven. Although his NBA career did not start as he had hoped, he remains a hero in the Volunteer State.

This was made clear during his shirt removal ceremony at East High. For about half an hour, Wiseman stood in the middle of the field as a who’s who of Memphis’s elite praised his intelligence and athleticism. Local dignitaries have repeatedly referred to his 4.3 GPA at East High, as well as the two banners hanging on the back wall: one for Wiseman’s 2018-19 Gatorade Tennessee Player of the Year award; another for his honor as the Gatorade National Player of the Year this season.

“James Wiseman wasn’t just a great athlete,” Shelby County, Tenn., Mayor Lee Harris told a tight crowd. “He was a great scholar.”

This rare combination was part of what prompted the Warriors to take on Wiseman with their best draft pick in 25 years. In addition to boasting of a 7ft 6in wingspan, huge vertical leap and smooth shot, he spoke Mandarin almost fluently, behaved with a poise that belied his youth, and studied cinema. with diligence.

But several unforeseen setbacks, as well as some issues picking up nuances of the Warriors’ reading and reaction system, have slowed its development. Before Wiseman suffered a season-ending knee injury in April, the Warriors were outscored by 183 points when he was on the ground in his 39 games.

Now, nearly nine months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn right meniscus, he hasn’t even been cleared for 3v3 scrums yet. The Warriors insist there is no Had a setback in his rehab, but the fact remains: the longer Wiseman sits, the longer he has to wait to start silencing his critics.

“There are a lot of skeptics out there,” Wiseman said. “I’m just working and I’m going to win. It’s all that matters.”

None of those skeptics appeared to be at East High on Monday. On the eve of the Warriors’ game against the Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum, almost the entire Golden State roster joined Wiseman on his big night. The teens pulled out their iPhones to snap photos of the prized East High alum alongside Stephen Curry.

Councilor JB Smiley Jr. presented Wiseman with a plaque proclaiming January 28, 2022 “James Wiseman Day” in Memphis. East High principal Newman Robertson reflected on the humble tall man who dominated the field and graduated in the top 10% of his class. Mustangs boys’ basketball coach Jevonte Holmes, assistant to Wiseman’s teams, handed Wiseman the black No.32 jersey which would be hanging from the rafters.

Through it all, Wiseman’s mother Donzaleigh Artis and older sister Jaquarius Greer have held back tears. Without the personal struggles Greer faced, Artis and Wiseman wouldn’t have moved from Nashville to Memphis until Wiseman’s freshman year of high school.

Greer, then a University of Memphis student, was homesick and depressed. After learning that many of Greer’s credits would not be transferred to the state of Tennessee in Nashville, Artis and Wiseman agreed to approach her for help as she continued her education in Memphis.

They did not know then that the next three years would be defined by controversy. Eligibility issues cast a shadow over Wiseman’s time at East High and the University of Memphis, sparking a torrent of media attention that took its toll on the teenager.

But microphone in hand Monday, Wiseman preferred to bet on the positive.

“I’m a little in shock right now,” he said. “I appreciate you all stepping out. I am blessed to be in this position. Everything about East High was beautiful.

The hardest part will come on Tuesday night, when the Warriors face the Grizzlies in the former college arena in Wiseman. It was supposed to be Wiseman’s big comeback in the NBA. Instead, he’ll watch from the bench in formal attire.

But years from now, when Wiseman reflects on that trip back to Tennessee, he thinks he will remember Monday’s festivities the most.

“I manifested this when I was younger,” Wiseman said. “But to be able to be here right now is crazy.”

Connor Letourneau is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Con_Chron