There have been over 40 High School basketball players who have been drafted directly from high school into the NBA, skipping any potential college careers, for a chance to make it big immediately. The transition from Prep to Pro is a fraught one and no matter how good you are in high school, it takes an exceptional talent to make the jump. There are of course a few big names that were big hits and succeeded with the jump, including a handful who will end up going from High School to the Hall Of Fame. On the other end of the spectrum are the players who made it to the NBA but then found the jump just a little too much and were unable to translate their talent and potential to this newer, bigger, faster game and ended up as disappointing misses. Then of course there are a few unique individuals who you could call obsolete draft picks. Those that did not even manage to make it into the NBA for any significant amount of time. Here is the list of the five best, five worst, and five useless Prep-to-Pro NBA draft picks.
15. Best: Kobe Bryant
The Lakers great just wrapped up a 20 year NBA career this past season finishing with 60 points in his final game. Unlike some other high school draft picks he was not seen as a slam dunk choice. He was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets at the request of the Los Angeles Lakers as a part of their trade of Vlade Divac. The Hornets however would have never considered taking him for themselves. Once in the NBA, Kobe slowly made his way into the rotation in LA and soon he even cracked the starting lineup to become the youngest person to ever start in the NBA. In his second year, Kobe won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award and from there his career continued to take off. Before long he had his first NBA Championship which turned into a three-peat. Ultimately he would claim five rings, an MVP trophy in 2008, and be an NBA All-Star 18 times.
14. Worst: Kwame Brown
As a journeyman NBA player, Kwame Brown has had a halfway decent career that spanned over a dozen years. Unfortunately he was the first overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft which meant that a decent journeyman career would be considered a bust. The general consensus around Brown was that he was the best high school player in the country. As a result, the Washington Wizards and team president Michael Jordan decided to choose him with the number one pick. High expectations did not match the low production on the court and despite improving marginally in the following years, Brown never broke through and was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2005. In LA he was inconsistent with flashes of potential that he usually did not live up to. Brown continued to survive in the NBA however, with stints in Memphis, Detroit, Charlotte, and Golden State. Despite lasting a long time in the league, as a highly touted Prep-to-Pro draft pick he was a disappointment.
13. Useless: Ousmana Cisse
Originally from the African country of Mali, Ousmane Cisse became a breakout star at Montgomery Catholic High School in Alabama. After leading his team to a state Championship, he declared for the 2001 NBA Draft. With the 46th pick, the Denver Nuggets took a chance on him but because of an injury he never played in the Mile High City. He first ended up on the Harlem Globetrotters before bouncing around semi-pro leagues between being signed by the Orlando Magic for a day and the Toronto Raptors for a few days. Eventually he found a spot in the Israeli Basketball league and had a few years of success, but never found his way back to the NBA. For this Cisse is considered to be a useless NBA Draft pick.
12. Best: Moses Malone
Moses Malone is known best for his time with the Philadelphia 76ers where he helped them win an NBA Championship in 1983 while also being named the Finals MVP. Known as the “Chairman of the Boards” for his affinity for rebounding, Malone is third on the all-time rebounding list behind Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. Malone also spent time with the Houston Rockets where he made the Finals in 1981, as well as the Bullets, Hawks, Bucks, and Spurs over his almost 20 year career. In addition to being a 12 time All-Star, Malone also claimed three MVP Awards. At the moment Moses Malone is the ONLY player drafted directly out of high school who is now in the NBA Hall of Fame. For a kid straight out of high school, Malone sure made an impact.
11. Worst: Sebastian Telfair
Another decent NBA player who is on this list because of how much better he could have been is Sebastian Telfair. Originally a Brooklyn, New York schoolboy star, Telfair decided against heading to Louisville for college and instead declared for the 2004 NBA Draft. As the number two high school point guard prospect he was chosen by the Portland Trailblazers with the 13th overall pick in the draft. Telfair managed to crack the starting lineup in his rookie year but it was for a team that was not very good to begin with as the Blazers finished with their worst won-loss record since the ’70s. He improved marginally in his second season but his performance was still not up to par and he soon lost his job and ended up being traded to the Celtics. He did not remain in Boston for long and was soon off to the Timberwolves as part of the trade that sent Kevin Garnett to the Celtics. After over a decade he is still bouncing around the league but he is still considered a miss.
10. Useless: Satnam Singh Bhamara
Satnam Singh was the first player from India to ever be drafted by an NBA team. He did not play in college, in any international leagues, or even for a conventional high school. After being discovered in the Indian state of Punjab he received a scholarship to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. When he was made ineligible for an NCAA scholarship, Singh declared for the 2015 NBA Draft where he was selected in the second round by the Dallas Mavericks. Singh has yet to play in a regular season NBA game but he has played in the NBA Summer League and for the Mavericks D-League affiliate Texas Legends. With minimal organized basketball training it is a wonder that he has made it this far, but being seven-foot-two inches tall has certainly helped.
9. Best: Darryl Dawkins
The second high school star to ever get drafted directly from high school was Darryl Dawkins. Despite making it to the NBA Finals twice, he never captured a ring. If you only look at the numbers, he may not appear to be among the greatest high schoolers ever drafted. But when you look at everything he brought to the game, the colorful Dawkins has earned a spot based on intangibles that other stars have never been able to compete with. The first is his nickname, Chocolate Thunder, which was bestowed upon him by Stevie Wonder. His dunks are also legendary and his best ones he even named, including the Rim-Wrecker, the Yo-Mama, the Spine-Chiller, and the Greyhound Special for his coast to coast dunks. Dawkins was even the reason that the NBA adopted breakaway rims due to his tendency to shatter backboards with his thunderous jams. If you insist on impressive stats, there is actually one that Dawkins does hold a record for. In fact he holds the top TWO spots statistically for most personal fouls in a single season with 386 in the 83-84 season and 379 the year before. If that is not enough to make him one of the best high best high school draft picks, then the fact that Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update named Dawkins “Man of The Millennium” in 1999 should.
8. Worst: Reggie Harding
The very first high school player ever drafted into the NBA was also one of the more unfortunate stories in the NBA. In the 1962 NBA Draft the Detroit Pistons chose local high school star Reggie Harding in the fourth round. He did not play for the Pistons until 1963-64 season and after a few years of run of the mill basketball he bounced to the Chicago Bulls and then the Indiana Pacers. His career was marred by serious personal problems however, including being accused of sexual assault, drug addiction, jail time, as well as threatening teammates and management with his gun. He was out of the league within four years. Ultimately he was shot dead at the age of 30 in his hometown of Detroit.
7. Useless: Ricky Sanchez
Despite being picked in the 2005 NBA Draft by the Portland Trailblazers, Puerto Rico’s Ricky Sanchez has never played in the NBA. His career outside the league however has been busy enough. After being traded on draft night to the Denver Nuggets for Jarrett Jack, his rights were later shipped to Philadelphia 76ers in 2007 and then to the Memphis Grizzlies in 2012 and finally to the Miami Heat in 2013 for Dexter Pittman. As his rights wandered the NBA like a phantom Nate Robinson, his actual body was busy playing all over the Latin America. After some time in the NBA D-League (a common trend) with the Idaho Stampede he returned to the Puerto Rican professional league in between bouts in the Mexican and Argentinean leagues.
6. Best: Kevin Garnett
The first high school player to be drafted in over 20 years was Kevin Garnett in 1995 when the Minnesota Timberwolves grabbed him with the fifth overall pick. In his second year he led the team to their first playoff appearance ever. The farthest he made it in the playoffs with Minnesota was the Western Conference Finals in 2004. After 12 seasons with the Timberwolves, Garnett was traded to the Boston Celtics where he joined Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to form what was soon called the “Big Three.” In 2009 he helped the Celtics win the NBA Championship. After two years with the Brooklyn Nets, Garnett returned to Minnesota to finish his career as a 15 time All Star, with an MVP award in 2004, and the one Championship ring with the Celtics, among numerous other honors.
5. Worst: Leon Smith
After being raised as a ward of the state of Illinois, Leon Smith was drafted out of Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Chicago in the first round of the 1999 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs who immediately traded him to the Dallas Mavericks. Unfortunately Smith had some difficult physiological problems which plagued him during the few years he tried to make his way in the NBA. His stints with the Atlanta Hawks and Seattle Supersonics were short and uneventful on the court. Off the court however he spent time in a psych ward and attempted suicide by taking a couple hundred aspirin at once. He bounced around some semi-pro leagues but never played in the NBA again. Smith serves as a prime example of the psychological aspect of struggling professional athletes.
4. Useless: Korleone Young
Originally from Wichita, Nebraska, the highly touted Korleone Young enrolled at the Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia for his senior year to play basketball on their nationally ranked team. As his teammates and other high school All-Americans declared for various elite NCAA basketball programs, Young surprised everyone by declaring for the 1998 NBA Draft. After slipping out of the first round he was eventually taken by the Detroit Pistons in the second round with the 40th overall pick. He only lasted a year in Detroit, playing less than one half of a game in total. He tried to catch on with the 76ers the following year but he never played another minute and ended up bouncing around the world with stints in the CBA, Russia, China, Israel, and Australia.
3. Best: LeBron James
The best player to ever be drafted straight out of high school to the NBA also might just be the greatest basketball player ever. Or at least the greatest one not named Michael Jordan. That of course is LeBron James who jumped from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron straight to the Cleveland Cavaliers as the number one pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. Almost immediately LeBron made an impact, scoring 25 points in his debut, winning Rookie of the Year honors, and averaging 20 points per game in his first season. In his third year the Cavaliers made the playoffs and he has not missed a post-season since. Unable to win a ring in Cleveland, he made a “Decision” to head to South Beach where he finally won his first NBA Championship. After another ring in Miami he went back home to Cleveland where his latest triumph was helping Golden State blow a 3-1 lead in the Finals and finally winning a title for his hometown team.
2. Worst: Jonathan Bender
As the McDonald’s All-America game MVP in 1999 Jonathan Bender seemed like a solid prospect in the 1999 NBA Draft. He was drafted by the Toronto Raptors out of Picayune Memorial High School in Mississippi with the fifth overall pick. The Raptors immediately traded Bender to the Indiana Pacers for Antonio Brown. Bender spent about five years in Indiana. His rookie year went well, scoring double figures in his NBA debut. But injuries became a problem and he only managed to play in 78 games after his rookie year. He took one last shot with the New York Knicks in 2009 but only played 25 games before hanging up his hightops. As a result of his career, we conclude that Jonathan Bender has been the worst player selected to the NBA straight out of high school.
1. Useless: James Lang
The New Orleans Hornets took James Lang in the second round of the 2003 NBA Draft directly out of Central Park Christian School in Birmingham, Alabama. He was soon waived by the team however. He then failed in a tryout with for the Utah Jazz before signing a 10 day contract with the Toronto Raptors. He spent a little time in the NBA D-League and with the Atlanta Hawks but did not see much action. His only significant stint in the NBA was 11 games with the Wizards in 2006 before floating in and out of the D-League for a few years. The six-foot-eight inch Lang hovered around 280 pounds but his weight had always been an issue and it was his problems with food that prevented Lang from making it in the NBA. In 2009 he suffered a stroke that may have been caused by his weight issues.
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