In the United States, high school athletics are incredibly popular, in some cases even more popular than professional sports. High school basketball and football games for instance, are routinely played on national television during their respective seasons. There are even dozens of websites and organizations who rank the top 500 high school basketball players in the country. With this incredibly bright spotlight shining on high school athletes it is no wonder some of these kids are unable to live up to the expectations. It has become slightly disturbing how much pressure is placed on child athletes these days, but it seems to continue to happen, regardless of the consequences it causes.
We have all seen the high school, or college star basketball player who makes it to the NBA, but is unable to rise to the level that the NBA requires. That tale has been told many many times over, but there are also the rare cases of student athletes who are not quite developed, or mentally strong enough to stand out at the high school level. Some players who have made it to the NBA didn’t have the greatest beginning to their basketball careers’. Today we will give the top 8 players who peaked in high school, and we will also reveal the top 8 players who were slow starters, but found their way once they got a chance at the highest level.
8. Pro – John Starks
John Starks had an amazing career with the New York Knicks. He, along with Patrick Ewing, were the two players responsible for the exciting rivalry between Michael Jordan’s Bulls and the Knicks. That, however, almost never came to be. Starks only played one year of high school basketball. After high school he attended Rogers State College, where he joined the “taxi squad,” a glorified practice squad. While playing intramural basketball, Starks was noticed by Ken Trickey, the former coach at Oral Roberts University. Trickey liked Starks’ game enough to get him a spot on the Oklahoma Junior College team, where Trickey was coaching at the time. Starks was able to turn that bit of luck into a full ride scholarship to Oklahoma State University and ultimately all the way to the NBA.
During his NBA career Starks was an All-Star, an NBA All-Defensive Team selection, and a Sixth Man of the Year.
8. High School – Jonathan Bender
During his senior season at Picayune High in Mississippi Bender was named the 1999 Gatorade High School Player of the Year. Bender was an incredibly athletic big man. Standing at 6’11” Bender was literally head and shoulders above his competition in high school. After committing to Mississippi State, Bender changed his mind and decided it would be best if he entered the NBA draft out of high school. Jonathan was drafted by the Toronto Raptors with the fifth overall selection of the 1999 draft. The Raptors immediately traded him to the Indiana Pacers for veteran Antonio Davis.
In Indiana, Bender averaged just 5.6 points per game and 2.2 rebounds. Being drafted at such a young age, Bender was unable to overcome the pressures and expectations he was given when he arrived in Indiana. He ultimately retired after 10 NBA seasons, and a career average of 5.5 points per game.
7. Pro – Dennis Rodman
In his freshman year of high school Dennis Rodman was 5’6 and not athletic at all. He claims he was on the roster for his high school teams, but was often benched or even cut. After high school Rodman had an incredible growth spurt and shot up to 6’7. He decided to give basketball another shot. In his single semester at Cooke County College, Rodman averaged 17.6 points and 13.3 rebounds, before flunking out due to poor academic performance. Once he was able to get his act together, Rodman became a superstar collegiate player while at Southeastern Oklahoma State.
In 1986 he was a second round pick by the Detroit Pistons. Rodman would ultimately go on to win five NBA championships, and two Defensive Player of the Year awards. Also Rodman was ranked 48 in the 2009 SLAM Magazine top 50 list.
7. School: Darius Miles
Darius Miles was one of the early prep to pro players. He was drafted with the third overall pick in the 2000 draft by the Clippers. The Clippers looked to be building a quality young team at the time, and Darius was a huge addition. Miles was a 6’9 point forward before every team had a 6’9″ point forward. He was expected to do what Kevin Durant has done and revolutionize the position. However, Darius ended up proving to be far too immature to become what many thought he would be when he came out of East St. Louis Senior High School in Illinois.
After retiring in 2009 with a career average of 10 points per game, Miles declared for bankruptcy in 2016. Miles has evolved into the poster child for why the NBA instituted its draft eligibility rules.
6. Pro – Jimmy Butler
Let’s just say this first of all, Jimmy Butler should not be in the NBA. Before the 2011 draft, one NBA general manager said about Butler, “His story is one of the most remarkable I’ve seen in all my years of basketball. There were so many times in his life where he was set up to fail. Every time, he overcame just enormous odds. When you talk to him—and he’s hesitant to talk about his life—you just have this feeling that this kid has greatness in him.” His father left him when he was an infant, and his mother kicked him out of the house when he was 13 years old. Butler became extremely close with a friend he met in high school and eventually moved in with the friend’s family. He says it saved his life.
During this time Butler was a decent high school ball player, averaging 10 points per game during his junior year. Butler would get a chance to prove himself on the next level when he was offered a scholarship from Tyler Junior College in Texas. Butler obviously took full advantage of the opportunities he was given and is now a perennial NBA All-Star and MVP candidate.