MIAMI — There were plenty of NBA scouts and executives in the stands to watch Memphis and Oregon on Nov. 12, 2019. It was no secret why; they all wanted to see Memphis' James Wiseman, the 7-foot-1 center who was already being touted as a candidate to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
Good thing they went that night. Wiseman hasn't been able to play a real game since.
But at long last, Wiseman is about to be on a team again. More than a year removed from the end of his three-game college career — doomed almost before it started because of NCAA rulings regarding his eligibility — Wiseman will be one of the first players selected in Wednesday's NBA draft. It's hard to envision a scenario where he doesn't go in the first three picks, which are currently held by Minnesota, Golden State and Charlotte.
"I mean, I can't wait," Wiseman said. "For me, it's been a long process, a long journey. I've been working out for nine months. I'm super-ecstatic and I'm super-excited to get this ball rolling and I'm ready for this season to start."
He has spent the bulk of this year in Miami, working and waiting.
The 19-year-old has added 15 pounds of muscle onto his frame, checking in now around 255 pounds. He's worked on his outside game, to the point where he feels comfortable from the 3-point line. He's been scrimmaging of late with players like Washington's John Wall, a past No. 2 pick in Michael Beasley and veteran NBA big man Jahlil Okafor. He picks their brains, asks questions, takes their feedback and applies it to his next workout.
And when that call comes Wednesday night — he'll be in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, watching the draft with family while the league conducts matters virtually from ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut — Wiseman knows some team will be betting a significant part of its future on him.
"He's a super-mature kid who understands where he's been and what he's striving for," said two-time NBA champion Mike Miller, who was part of the staff at Memphis with Wiseman last season. "The talent screams at you. I think he's one of the safest and most-talented players in this draft, a kid who will walk into a locker room and the locker room will be better for it. That's tough to say about most 19-year-olds."
Wiseman — a left-hander who has drawn some comparisons to Chris Bosh, another lefty, athletic big man — gives off a clear sense of maturity. Ask Wiseman, and it comes from the belief that nothing has come easily.
Wiseman believes he was underrated at times as he moved through the high school ranks. The college experience was a disaster for him; his family received $11,500 from former Memphis player and current Tigers coach Penny Hardaway to assist in a move from Nashville to Memphis in the summer of 2017, before Hardaway took over the program. Hardaway was considered a booster for the program at the time, which made the payment against NCAA rules.
If that wasn't enough trouble for Wiseman, the draft process — not just for him, for everyone — has been one long waiting game. The NBA draft is traditionally in June; the coronavirus pandemic delayed it three times, first to August or September, then to October, and now to Wednesday.
"It was very tough, but I'm super-mentally tough," Wiseman said. "I've been through a lot of stuff in my life. I've been through a lot of adversity. As a basketball player, I want to play ASAP. But it's given me a lot more time to lock in on my work, to lock in on my skillset."
Make no mistake, he wants to be the No. 1 pick. But he also pointed out that one of his best interviews with a team happened to be his talk with Golden State -- a team that sent a contingent including Bob Myers to that Memphis-Oregon game last year, and a team that might certainly find a use for an athletic post player to help the likes of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
"We talked a lot about my game," Wiseman said. "But we mostly talked about my character, me as a person."
Whoever takes him, Wiseman said he'll be ready to roll. Training camps start less than two weeks from draft night. It's going to be a difficult task for any rookie this season to get acclimated to a new city, new teammates, new everything in a very condensed window of time, but Wiseman insists he's up to the challenge.
"Me going through the adversity in college, people didn't see me play that much," Wiseman said. "I've got a lot to prove. It's as simple as that. And I'm a totally different player now."