To go to college or not to go to college. This is a dilemma that many young men have had to deal with until the NBA decided to change the rule a few years back. Not too long ago, players were able to go and declare for the NBA draft straight out of high school. This has sparked one of the most controversial debates in the history of basketball. Should players be allowed to enter the National Basketball League without spending a single year at a college campus, or should the league force them to go to college before they could be eligible for the draft?
And to be completely honest, we believe both sides have solid arguments. One of the main reasons why people think the college rule should stay in place is that not many players actually make it to the NBA. There are so many stories of amazing high school players who were drafted into the league but could not stay there for longer than one or two years. After that, they had to deal with life without having the opportunities that would be open to them if they had taken a college scholarship and studied while honing their skills to try to make a living in the NBA.
At the same time, there are a bunch of players who have gone to college because of the rule but would have worked out in the NBA either way. These are rare talents that could have trailed similar paths to LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. We will name five guys who have gone to college because of the rule but would’ve been fine coming to the league straight out of high school. But we will also mention 10 high school draftees who should have focused on their studies.
15 Skipped: Eddy Curry
We are not in the business of pulling punches, so let’s start off this list with a big one. Who here doesn’t remember Eddy Curry? Most of us probably do. After all, it is not easy to forget a 300-pound seven-footer who came into the league with as much hype as Curry did when he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls with the fourth pick of the 2001 NBA Draft.
What all of the teams Curry played for would eventually find out is a trend that big guys are not really the safest bet to be drafted right out of high school. Seriously, what most of these guys do is bully other high school kids on the court, which makes them seem like great pro prospects. But at the end of the day, you need to see how these guys fare in a competitive environment like college before you draft them. If you don’t, you could end up with a seven-footer who finished his career averaging just above five rebounds per game.
14 Study: Sebastian Telfair
Some guys are monsters when they play high school ball. We talked about a seven-footer, but here is a six-footer who seemed like he would be one of the great point guards ever when he was drafted with the 13th pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. Sebastian Telfair was by far one of the best high school players of his generation. Stephon Marbury’s little cousin, Telfair became a national sensation and was elected the 2004 USA Mr. Basketball.
Many thought there would be no stopping him and college was no place for someone with as much talent as this kid. Well, it turns out Telfair could have used a little time to play college ball, as well as an education. He played many years in the league but was never anything more than a role player and ended up making more headlines because of gun and robbery incidents than with this play.
13 Should Have Skipped: Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo has had his ups and downs during his career. That is mostly regarding to his attitude towards winning and things like that. After all, no one can deny the natural talent this guy always had for scoring the basketball. Either way, Carmelo is one of those guys who played a season in college but could have very well become as good a star as he is today if he was drafted straight out of high school. His case is unusual because despite having the skill to make it in the league without ever going to Syracuse, he played hard in college and was able to guide the Orangemen to their first-ever NCAA national title.
Anthony averaged 22.2 points and 10 rebounds per game in his freshman championship campaign. Sure, he probably learned a lot during his year in college, but that certainly didn’t have much effect in how his career panned out.
12 Skipped: Robert Swift
Another guy who could have been a success story but ended up becoming a sad tale is Robert Swift. The guy was a reliable big man who played good minutes for the Seattle Supersonics and eventually the Oklahoma City Thunder from 2004 all the way to 2009. After getting waived by the Thunder, Swift tried finding new places to play and even went to Japan for a bit.
However, he returned to America and became involved in a series of sad incidents with the police. The most reported one was an October 2014 police raid that was targeting an alleged heroin and methamphetamine dealer who owned a bunch of guns. When they broke into the house, they found the former NBA player holding a sawed-off shotgun and proceeded to arrest him. This is yet another guy who could’ve used a little time in college.
11 Skipped: Ndudi Ebi
It is almost impossible for people to see a young Nigerian big man making waves in America and not compare him to Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon. Unfortunately for most of the guys who become part of this comparison, none of them seems to be even a little bit as good as The Dream was. Ndudi Ebi was one of these guys.
Making use of his size and the hype around him, Ebi declared for the 2003 NBA Draft despite having committed to the University of Arizona, a move he probably regretted later on. He played a mere 19 games in his NBA career and averaged 2.1 points and one rebound per game. After seeing he would never really have a future in the NBA, Ebi became something of a basketball nomad. He has played in teams all the way from Italy and Israel, to places like Iran and Egypt.
10 Should Have Skipped: Anthony Davis
Natural talent is something hard to come by when it comes to basketball. Just try and think about how many times you have seen an athletic and coordinated seven-footer who could dribble and score from outside of the paint. It doesn’t happen very often, but that was already who Anthony Davis was during his high school career. The guy was a five-star recruit in every single publication that ranks high school players. Nevertheless, because of the college rule, he made his way to Kentucky, where he got to enjoy a year under head coach John Calipari.
Needless to say, this guy was the driving force behind the team that won the NCAA championship, with Davis averaging nothing less than 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, and a ridiculous 4.7 blocks per game. Did this guy really need to go to college?
9 Skipped: Korleone Young
If the NBA ever opens up the draft for high school kids again, we would highly recommend teams to stay away from drafting big men unless they have an innate scoring ability like Anthony Davis or Kevin Durant. The list of high school draftees who became busts is so full of guys over 6’7” that we don’t think any of the bets would be worth it. At least let these guys do the one-and-done and see how well they can play against college players. It really seems like high school basketball is not a measure for anything when it comes to professional talent, especially for big men.
Another example of this sad reality is Korleone Young, who was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 1998, but barely played three games in his career.
8 Skipped: Kwame Brown
The poster boy for everyone who argues in favor of the college rule, Kwame Brown might have just been one of the worst number one picks in the history of the NBA. He is right up there with Greg Oden. It was the turn-of-the-century, and the hope of Washington was that the 2001 NBA Draft would be the place where they finally got their savior. Unfortunately for the Wizards, they decided to go with the high school kid from Glynn Academy in Georgia.
And for all intents and purposes, Brown was okay in the grand scheme of things. Nothing near what was expected of a number one pick, but okay. However, it is hard to argue against the idea that one or two years in college could’ve completely transformed this guy before he went pro. He could have been a great player.
7 Should Have Skipped: Kevin Durant
Following the same line of Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant is one of those guys who seriously did not need a year in college to find out he could cut it in the NBA. Nevertheless, because of the college rule, KD had to spend a year in Texas playing college ball. While he probably lost a lot of money he would have earned if he could have declared for the draft right out of high school, the folks at Texas certainly did not complain about being able to have a 6’9” small forward who could shoot the lights out on their roster.
Durant was a unanimous selection for National Player of the Year, which was no surprise to anyone since he finished the year averaging 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game for the Longhorns.
6 Skipped: Jonathan Bender
The 1999 NBA Draft was stacked. There were so many good players coming out of college that year that we find it almost hilarious that a high school kid out of Mississippi managed to squeeze his way into the top five that year. For what it’s worth, Jonathan Bender did seem like a great prospect coming out of high school, and he did have some okay years playing for the Indiana Pacers. But to think that a big man who only averaged 5.5 points and 2.2 rebounds throughout his career was drafted before All-Stars like Wally Szczerbiak and Richard Hamilton is kind of funny.
Oh yeah, let’s not forget that other players who were drafted after Bender include the likes of Shawn Marion, Ron Artest, Andrei Kirilenko, and none other than Manu Ginobili, who was the second to last pick of the entire draft.
5 Skipped: Dorell Wright
A lot of the guys who made it to this list on the side that they should have gone to college instead of heading to the NBA straight out of high school, had the talent to make it in the league anyways, but they are the kind of players who could have used a college education.
Something most people don’t understand is that while NBA players as a whole do make a lot of money, most of them are role players who make good money, but not enough money to sustain them for their entire lives. Those are the guys who could use four years in college to get a degree that they could use after their playing careers. An example of someone who was a widely respected role player, Dorell Wright is part of this group.
4 Should Have Skipped: John Wall
From his first day at Kentucky, everyone knew John Wall would become one of the great point guards of his generation. This guy had some exposure in high school and could have very well been drafted top five or even top three if the college rule did not exist. But his play in Kentucky during the 2009-10 season did nothing but solidify Wall as the undisputed number one pick of the following year’s draft. He did not average crazy numbers like Durant or Davis, but Wall finished his one season in Kentucky with 16.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 6.5 assists per game. He was also named the SEC player of the year. He did not take his team to a national title, but that did little to taint John Wall’s stock heading into the draft, as he was still the number one pick.
3 Skipped: Darius Miles
The biggest victims of the NBA allowing teams to draft high school players, seem to be the teams themselves. There are cases in which the players are the ones being cheated out of an education that they could use afterward, but most of the times the ones who get the worst of it are the teams that end up getting role players early in the draft because they seem like superstars in high school, while they could get solid players coming out of college who could make a bigger impact and are more of a sure thing.
The Los Angeles Clippers found out the hard truth when they picked Darius Miles with the third pick of the 2000 NBA Draft. Miles had a healthy career in the NBA and averaged more than 10 points a game. Nevertheless, he was taken before guys like Jamal Crawford and Hedo Turkoglu.
2 Skipped: Shaun Livingston
The ultimate role player, Livingston has finally found a steady paycheck with the Golden State Warriors after years bouncing around the league. And before any Golden State Bandwagoners decide to come here and curse us out, we are not saying that Livingston is a terrible player. Much on the contrary, he is one of those guys every team would be lucky to have. At the same time, he is the perfect example of why drafting players out of high school doesn’t work. He is good, but he is not nearly as good as someone being drafted in the top five should be.
In order to draft Livingston, the Clippers passed up the chance of getting guys like Luol Deng and Andre Iguodala. If he had spent a couple of years in college, everyone would know Livingston should be a mid to late first round prospect.
1 Should Have Skipped: Derrick Rose
Sure, when people look at it today, Derrick Rose could be considered an iffy NBA prospect. But that is just because we know the history of injuries that he suffered throughout his NBA career. Nevertheless, before he was in the league or even during the years before his first ACL tear, Rose looked like one of those guys who would undoubtedly become a first ballot Hall of Famer. Hell, the man was the only one to take an MVP title from LeBron James from 2009 all the way to 2013.
It doesn’t matter which way anyone tries to put it, before the series of devastating injuries began, Derrick Rose was a monster. And he would’ve been a monster the same way if he skipped his one year of playing college ball at Memphis.