There once existed a time in the NBA in which prospects could enter the draft directly from high school. Understandably, this drew both praise and criticism alike from analysts and fans. On the one hand, it gave us some all-time great talents such as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. It was clear that they would be generational players who could play at an elite level almost immediately. Conversely, we also saw plenty of players who didn't have the capability to make the immediate jump from high school, and it ultimately cost them in some way, shape or form.
In fact, you could argue that out of the 44 players who went directly from high school to the NBA, that only roughly 6 or 7 had any business doing so. Even if the other players did end up working out to some degree, their development was hindered by the disparity in the level of play. After 2005, the rules were altered to require every prospect to be one year removed from high school before entering the draft. Before that, however, it was open season, and most of the high school players who went guns blazing into the NBA ultimately made the wrong move.
Ranked below are 15 NBA draft busts who regret skipping college.
15 Kwame Brown
It seems like a lifetime ago now, but once upon a time Brown was supposed to be the biggest thing to hit the NBA. Back then in 2001, taking a player directly out of high school didn't seem like so much of a risk, considering the league was coming off the successes of Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, both of whom had made the jump a few years earlier.
Unfortunately for Brown, he stumbled right out of the gate, and never made the impact that everyone thought he would. For being a 1st-overall pick, his career was nothing more than mediocre, as he suited up for a plethora of different teams. Strange to think that one of the most highly-touted prospects of a generation just ended up being a journeyman center when it was all said and done.
14 DeShawn Stevenson
Stevenson has been the definition of a journeyman during his long career in the NBA, but he never lived up to his 1st-round potential. He seemed like a great prospect coming out of high school, but he never turned into the kind of scorer that the Jazz thought he would be when they took him in the 2000 draft.
He fizzled out quickly in Utah, only to do the same for seemingly a dozen other teams. Stevenson's the kind of player who would have been served well going to play for several years at the college level. Just is the same for many other players, their measurables didn't translate so quickly from the high school level to the NBA. He was a good threes-and-D guy, but skipping college may have cost him a far more productive career.
13 Eddy Curry
Just another in a long line of Bulls players that were slated to bring the team back to the dominance they enjoyed during the Jordan era, Curry was decidedly not that player. Selected with the 4th-overall pick by Chicago, he never really got going, despite receiving ample time as a starter from his rookie year onward.
Curry eventually did turn into a competent scorer in the paint, but for a big guy, he was a poor rebounder, something that wasn't going to fly if he wanted to maintain his role as the franchise player in Chicago. He eventually moved on to the Knicks for a few seasons, where he admittedly continued to excel as a scorer. Injuries took their toll on him late in his career, and he was out of basketball after just over a decade in the league. Overall, a severe disappointment for the Bulls.
12 Ndubi Ebi
For his two seasons on the Timberwolves, Ebi was dead weight. He was taken in the 1st round in the 2003 draft, and it was abundantly clear that he wasn't ready for the NBA game. In his brief time in the league, he played in just 19 games for Minnesota, and was effectively out of the league by 2006.
This is a prime example of a player who just wasn't good enough to be taken out of high school, and it resulted in a quick exit from the league, never to return. By playing at the NCAA level, Ebi could have at least increased his skill level to the point where he could have made some kind of a career in the NBA. Instead, he had to settle for the international game, and is currently in the Iranian Basketball Super League.
11 Leon Smith
Some players on this list were at least able to turn in NBA careers that were somewhat productive, even if they were underwhelming as a whole. Smith is not one of those players. A 1st-round pick of the Hawks in 2001, Smith was terrible in both of his seasons on an NBA court. The stereotype of the bulky, unathletic center, he simply didn't have the ability to compete at the pro level.
Players of his size were generally a huge risk when it came to the jump from high school, just because they were more likely to dominate at the lower level just based on their sheer size. When they got to the NBA, they had to rely on actual basketball skill to get them through, and many of them just didn't have enough of it. Smith was a testament to that risk, and one of the worst overall picks in the Hawks' history.
10 Gerald Green
Somehow, Green has been able to stay in the league since he was drafted in 2006, and it's been largely an up-and-down affair, with more bad than good. There was always a good amount of ability when it came to Green's game, but he was never able to translate it fully in the pro level.
He's definitely a player that would have been aided massively by going to college to play for a year or two. Unfortunately, like so many others, he was lured to the NBA on the assumption that the difference would be marginal. Like always, the learning curve was too high, and by the time Green's career got going, it was too late.
9 Jonathan Bender
As a 5th-overall pick by Indiana, Bender was supposed to be the franchise player of the future, and give them a presence in the paint that could get them over the hump. Instead, he was unquestionably one of the biggest draft busts of his generation. Bender never was able to grasp the NBA game in full, and he fizzled out to a bench player for the rest of his career.
To make matters worse, he suffered multiple debilitating knee injuries later in his career which only furthered his spiral into mediocrity. Bender's career lasted well short of a decade, and he's easily one of the most disappointing players of the Y2K Era. Playing a few years in college may have turned his fortunes around for the better, had he stayed healthy.
8 Korleone Young
Young never had any business declaring for the draft out of high school to begin with. He was a really good college recruit at the time, but definitely not a great one. Nearly everyone questioned the move, and rightfully so. The Pistons ended up taking Young in the 2nd round of the 1999 draft, and he appeared in just 3 games in what was his lone season on an NBA roster.
He's a prime example of why stipulations had to be added in order to keep players from making such a leap from high school to the NBA. Young was never a truly premier talent in the way that Kobe, Garnett and the like were. He never had the kind of innate ability that could allow him to succeed right away in the NBA. But he hurt his career because he overrated himself, and it cost him what could have been a very productive career had he developed his game in the college ranks.
7 Thon Maker
Having only played one season so far, Maker isn't a definitive bust by any measure. But he certainly hasn't gotten off to a good start, on a Bucks team that has positions on it that need to be filled. Maker was able to bypass the rule because of technicalities about his age, and he's only the 2nd player since the rule change in 2005 to not play in college at all before heading to the NBA.
But that doesn't mean it was a good decision. Maker received ample starting time last season, and he really didn't make much of an impact. For someone of his size, to produce hardly anything in any statistical category isn't a good sign at all. Given that he was a 10th overall pick, Maker could end up being yet another bust in short order, if he's not able to bring his play up a notch.
6 DeSagana Diop
Diop is a player that was able to hang in the league for a long time, but never came close to reaching his perceived potential. He was at best a spot starter for any one of the seemingly dozen teams that he played for over his career. For a top-10 pick to not rise beyond that kind of a level is a big disappointment.
Still, Diop wasn't nearly as bad as a few players on this ranking. With two or three years of college ball under his belt, he could have been in a better position to have some initial success in the league, and improve at a rate that could have at least kept him as a starting player. As it turned out, Diop was mainly relied upon to eat up minutes off the bench. Not exactly high praise, but to his credit he was able to at least maintain a position in the league, when others have fizzled out completely.
5 Robert Swift
Another big-man casualty of the high school jump to the NBA, Swift's production was almost nil at the NBA level. The Seattle SuperSonics (soon to be the Oklahoma City Thunder at the time) assumed they had gotten a dominating force in the paint that could be relied upon for years. Instead, Swift was mediocre from the beginning.
Never a full-time starter, and suffering from a major injury in the middle of his short career, Swift was severely underwhelming. His status as the 12th overall pick never was lived up to, and he was out of the league in about five years. At 7-feet-tall, he was able to beat up on lesser competition with ease, but his fortunes changed when he got to the next level. A few years in the NCAA would have helped.
4 Martell Webster
Had he gone to an elite college program, Webster may have had a much more successful career. He was usually right on the cusp of being a consistently good player, but inexperience kept him from reaching those heights. He spent time on the Trail Blazers, Wizards and Timberwolves, but nothing stuck.
There's no question that Webster had the ability to be great, but he too often fell into the pit of mediocrity that kept him down. A 6th-overall pick, he was expected to come in and be a force right away, and those expectations simply couldn't be met from a player like this right out of high school.
3 Andrew Bynum
Admittedly, for a few seasons, Bynum definitely looked like the real deal. His struggles with injuries were well-documented, and there's a clear before and after point to his career. However, it took Bynum a few years to get going in the NBA, and he could have spent that time in college, developing his game.
Maybe it was just the injuries that ultimately caused his downfall, but Bynum still didn't display the level of play of a truly generational player. He was simply another very good player, but one that would have been best served by a year or two in the college ranks.
2 Darius Miles
Miles was supposed to be the franchise player that elevated the Clippers out of the doldrums of the '90s. They were one of the worst teams in the NBA, and Miles was considered by some to be the best player in the 2000 draft. Recent stars had been successful in making the jump from high school to the NBA, and Miles was considered to be just another in that line. With that, he was taken 3rd-overall by Los Angeles' then-"other team."
It was clear early on that he was up to the level of the Kobe's of the world however. Miles struggled early and often to score prolifically, something that was supposed to be the most intriguing aspect of his game. After moving on from the Clippers, he was essentially nothing more than a role player for a few years, before his retirement in 2009. With a couple years in the college game to hone his naturally dynamic ability, he could have been a great player. Instead, he was one of the first argument against the high school leap to the NBA in the Y2K Era.
1 Sebastian Telfair
It's often forgotten now, but there was once a time in which Telfair was the most anticipated prospect in the country. He had every NBA team watching him from the time he was in early high school. Naturally, he was a prime candidate to make the jump to the NBA after the 12th grade. The eyes of the basketball world were upon him, and the expectations were high to say the least.
Telfair ended up being a top-15 overall pick, and the Trail Blazers were high on him when they selected him. Unfortunately, he was lacking in the exact kinds of fundamental passing skills and court awareness that a point guard can feasibly develop in the college game. Had Telfair gone that route, he probably would have gone on to be a much better player, and fulfilled the All-Star-level expectations that he carried upon entering the NBA.