Before the NBA instituted an age restriction in the league that requires players to be one year removed from high school or 19, there were many players that came straight from grade school to the NBA. There are some success stories like Kevin Garnett, Moses Malone, and Kobe Bryant. However for every success story like LeBron James there is a failure like Lenny Cooke that just did not make it professionally. It has to be difficult to make the jump from high school basketball to playing with fully grown professional athletes. At 18 most kids are thinking about what college they are going to attend, they are not signing multimillion dollar contracts and travel the United States with an NBA franchise. At such a young age there are many different things that can derail a players career.
That is why there are so many stories of players that went from high school straight to the league that did not live up to there potential. Some players did not know how to handle all the money and pressure that comes along with playing professional basketball. In the NBA where everyone is big and strong they failed to make the same impact that they did at the high school level. These guys had all the potential in the world, yet they did not come close to realizing it on the big stage. A number of these guys were drafted in the top five of their drafts, but couldn't measure up.
15 Korleone Young
Young is a classic case of why a young player should go to college instead of going straight to the NBA. He was drafted later in the draft than he expected at 40th overall by the Detroit Pistons. He only ended up playing in three games for the team, but he could have had a much longer career if he developed his game in college before going into the draft. After he stopped playing in the NBA he went on to play in the IBL, CBA, Russia, Austrialia, and China. He definitely had talent to play professional basketball, but the NBA was never something he could last in. His story illustrates how risky it is jumping from high school straight to pro basketball.
14 Ousmane Cisse
Probably the least recognized name on this list, Ousmane Cisse made his name known in high school basketball in Alabama. He declared for the NBA draft in 2001 and he was drafted 46th overall by the Denver Nuggets. He was a second round pick, so he was not as risky of a pick as most of the guys on the list. Cisse never actually got into a game for the Nuggets because his game never developed the way they thought it would. After his chance at the NBA fell through he played for the Harlem Globetrotters, so he obviously had basketball talent. Now he doesn't have the pressure to win, he just needs to focus on making people smile and enjoy a good show.
13 Eddie Curry
When Eddie Curry came out of high school into the NBA people were already giving him the nickname baby Shaq because of his ability to dominate high school kids physically. The Chicago Bulls took him fourth overall and he was expected to help the franchise get back to their championship ways. That was far from the case and Curry flamed out of Chicago very fast. They traded him to the Knicks in 2005 and he did not do much there either. Curry’s biggest issue was his lack of motivation on defense and on the glass rebounding as well. He did have some flashes of brilliance but he was mostly a waste of basketball talent. Curry ended up being a bust for both the team that drafted him and all the teams that traded for him. He also got plenty of coaches and front office people fired along the way.
12 James Lang
In 2003 he decided to skip out on school and went straight for the league. Then he was barely drafted late in the second round by the New Orleans Hornets who decided to take a flier on the young prospect. He never made his mark in the NBA and he bounced around the league on short 10 day contracts for his entire career. He was initially waived from his first team because of back injuries and because his coach did not see potential for him to make the active roster. After his NBA dreams came to an end he played overseas in Spain and Israel. The last time he played basketball was with the Utah Flash in the D league. He eventually had to stop playing basketball because he had a stroke that left him partially paralyzed.
11 Jonathan Bender
Jonathan Bender is a former MVP of th 1999 McDonald's All-American Game, which is an annual all-star game that showcases the best high school basketball players in America. He entered the draft straight out of high school and was drafted fifth overall by the Toronto Raptors. Somehow being a seven footer he only averaged 2 rebounds during his career, he did not have much of an offensive game in the NBA either averaging only 5 points in his career. He was originally drafted by the Raptors but then was traded to the Indiana Pacers on draft night. He ended up playing seven seasons for the Pacers before a knee injury lead him to be waived by the team. Bender attempted to make a comeback with the Knicks in 2009 but he only ended up playing 25 games for them before he retired averaging 5.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in his final season. In 2005 Sports Illustrated rated Bender as the number eleven biggest bust in modern draft history.
10 Ricky Sanchez
Ricky Sanchez is another player who went later in the draft that might not be as well known as some of the players on the list. He made his mark playing high school basketball at the IMG Academy in Florida. After he declared for the draft he had to wait until the 35th pick to hear his name called by the Portland Trailblazers. His draft rights were then traded to the Nuggets. He never saw a single minute in the NBA. Instead he played professionally in Puerto Rico, the CBA, and the D league before it became the G league. At least he was able to continue playing the game he loved professionally. It must still be tough to know he was so close to his dream but still so far.
9 DeSagana Diop
DeSagana Diop is the classic case of a dominant high school big man that could not develop his game in the NBA. He had a long NBA career playing for multiple teams but he could never stick anywhere long enough to make a major impact. He was a solid defensive player at one point in his career and could grab rebounds. However the Cleveland Cavaliers were expecting much more out of him when they drafted him 8th overall back in 2001. His career averages of 2 points per game and 3.7 rebounds prove how limited Diop’s game was. Somehow he parlayed those numbers into a twelve year career playing for the Cavs, Dallas Mavericks, New Jersey Nets, and the Charlotte Bobcats. He is still around the game of basketball; he is now an assistant coach for the Utah Jazz.
8 Leon Smith
Leon Smith’s career proves that some people are just not mentally ready for he NBA when they are only 18 years old. His career was cut short because of psychological issues early on in his career. He was a standout basketball player in high school, starting at Martin Luther King High in Illinois. This success allowed him to be drafted in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs in 1999. His rights were traded to the Mavericks but he never ended up being a terrible deal for them. He could not handle the mental stress that comes along with playing professional basketball. But who could blame him? At 18 most kids could not handle the pressure of playing people way more experienced and are mentally tougher.
7 Ndudi Ebi
Ebi was actually born in Britain, but he had his success in high school basketball in the State of Texas at Westbury Christian. The Minnesota Timberwolves picked him in the first round because he had a lot of skills for being 6’9, which meant he had a lot of potential. He ended up only lasting two seasons in the NBA. He was so bad that I’m his third season the Wolves tried to send him down to the D league but their request was denied. The D league used to only allowed players in their first two years in the NBA participate. Surprisingly enough Ebi is still playing basketball today. He had a long and solid career as a pro overseas that still continues right now.
6 Sebastian Telfair
Telfair was labeled the next superstar at the point guard position when he entered the NBA draft out of high school in 2004. He entered the league with tons of hype being the cousin of NBA guard Stephon Marbury and he even had a documentary about his decision to skip college going into the draft as well. He never lived up to the hype that surrounded him in when he got to the NBA and during his career he had career averages of only 7.4 points and 3.5 assists per game. One of the reasons he had such little success is because he could never last with a team for more than two seasons. He played for 9 NBA teams most recently with the Thunder in 2014 but could never get one team to commit to him long term. One can’t help but wonder how his career would’ve went if he would’ve refined his game in college at Louisville with Rick Pitino where he once committed to attend.
5 Darius Miles
During his career Darius Miles definitely showed flashes of why he was taken third overall by the Clippers 2000. In his first couple of seasons in the league no one was thinking of Miles as a bust because he played well for a kid coming out of high school. However his game never fully developed into the star that scouts thought he could become. Miles was somewhat of a fan favorite during his time with the Clippers and even had a couple of movie appearances while playing in LA. He was eventually traded from the Clippers to the Portland TrailBlazers and after that he suffered a knee injury that pretty much made him ineffective the rest of his time with them. During his eight year career he only averaged 10.1 points and 4.1 rebounds. Those numbers are solid for a role player, but being the third pick in a draft his career stats are definitely considered bust worthy.
4 Robert Swift
What was the Seattle SuperSonics thinking when they made Swift the 12th overall pick back in 2004? Swift had plenty of size being 7’1, but that eventually ended up being his downfall. Like many big men before him, knee injuries ruined him early on in his career. He averaged 4.3 points per game and 4.0 rebounds per game playing for the SuperSonics and Thunder for four seasons. Swift is perhaps the story that could scare future young players straight because he has had multiple run ins with the law since his career ended. He was last arrested for being involved in armed home invasion. His career shows how quickly a player can go from being a star basketball player to rock bottom once they fall out of the league.
3 Kwame Brown
One of the first notable draft picks Michael Jordan made as president of basketball operations for Washington Wizards was Kwame Brown. Kwame reportedly wowed Jordan in a one on one workout against Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry who were also talented young big men at the time. This lead him to be drafted number one overall in the 2001 NBA draft and never came close to fulfilling his potential. The knock on Brown was always his motivation and his small hands that made it hard for him to handle the ball down low. Brown was able to stay in the NBA for 12 seasons yet he never really made an impact for any of the seven teams he played for. When a former number one pick averages 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds during his career it is safe to say he was a bust. Now Kwame and NBA bust are synonymous with one another and he was the start of Michael Jordan's long list of bad draft picks he has selected over the years.
2 Shaun Livingston
Shaun Livingston is best known for being a two time Champion with the Golden State Warriors in his past few seasons in the NBA. Yet even though he redeemed his career in his second act he was once considered one of the biggest busts of all-time. Livingston was drafted fourth overall out of high school by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2004 draft. He was expected to revolutionize the point guard position for the Clippers at 6’7 he was supposed to be their modern version of Magic Johnson. One of the most gruesome knee injuries of all-time derailed those expectations very quickly and he had to go through major surgery making him think he would never return to basketball again. Still at his career averages of 6.6 points and 3.2 assists a game, much more was expected of a player whose career started with so much hype.
1 Lenny Cooke
It is hard to imagine now that Lenny Cooke was once ranked ahead of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Amar'e Stoudemire back when they were all playing in high school at the same time. In 2000 and 2001 Cooke was considered the number one basketball player in America during his Sophomore and Junior seasons. It was very rough for Lenny growing up his family had to use an open oven to warm up their apartment. That didn't diminish him on the court, he was a 6’6 player that could play any position in high school. He could do anything on offence and was an intimidating defender as well. His senior year in high school he was academically ineligible to play sports because of his grades and lack of attendance. After this he decided to enter the draft and it was a major mistake. Every team passed on him in the draft. He now speaks to younger players trying to advise them to not make the same mistakes he did like partying and not going to class when he was younger.