There are 44 NBA players who have came to the NBA straight from high school. A small minority of these players have taken a year off, but thus, they still technically did not attend a college or university. It is hard to imagine going straight to the NBA from high school. These guys went from prom and graduation straight to the pros.
Some players on this list have enjoyed very successful careers, while others have struggled on the big stage. There is a common argument that NBA players are best developed at the college level, and this is factually true. If more than 90% of NBA players come from a college or university/overseas team, there are real odds in favor of the athlete going to college. Alas, the NBA banned players from going straight from 12th grade to the pros. Starting in 2006, athletes were no longer permitted to skip out on a degree, or somewhat of a degree (most players leave before four years is over). The collective bargaining agreement requires players to be at least 19 and have one year of college under their belt to join an NBA roster. Many fans agree with this, siding with the NBA because they believe athletes should get at least one year of collegiate experience.
Here are 8 players who failed in the NBA, and 7 who made a steady paycheck while becoming solid professional players.
15 Failed: Robert Swift
Robert Swift is now a free agent. He was obviously fantastic in high school. A top 25 recruit in the country he was initially going to attend USC. The Sonics took him 12th in the 2004 draft, proving to be one of their biggest draft mistakes ever. He never panned out. His first season was a bust, as he only played in 16 games. In this period, he averaged 0.9 PPG, 0.4 RPG, and 4.5 minutes per game. Swift was thought to need a couple of years to develop, and so the Sonics did not lose hope in him. He did a little bit better with a new head coach Bob Hill in his second year. He played 47 games and averaged 6.4 PPG and 5.6 RPG. Still, the team was unhappy with his progression, considering where he was drafted.
14 Succeeded: Amar'e Stoudemire
13 Failed: Jonathan Bender
Jonathan Bender struggled to stay healthy during his career. The Raptors took him fifth overall in 1999. He was highly recruited because of his size, athleticism, and scoring abilities. Bender, like Robert Swift, had initially committed to attend college - Missisippi State.
Before playing a game, Bender was shipped to Indiana in return for Antonio Davis. He did very well in his debut. He scored 10 points, becoming the only player from high school to score double digits in the first game. Unfortunately, the Pacers signed him to a four year, $28.5 million contract in 2001. This proved to be a horrible mistake, as he was eventually noted as the 11th biggest bust in modern sports history by Sports Illustrated.
12 Succeeded: Jermaine O'Neal
Jermaine O'Neal is a South Carolinian. He considered the idea of going to college, but scored very low on his SAT. O'Neal thought it would make the most sense to go straight to the NBA, like Kevin Garnett had done the year before. In 1996, the Blazers selected him with the 17th overall pick. He proved to be a young prospect, needing some direction. In Portland, he averaged around 4 PPG every year and was not very relevant. His career took a turn when he went to the Pacers, and he would become an integral part of the team.
11 Failed: Andrew Bynum
Bynum began his career as a near dominant big man. With the Lakers, he did very well. He had his best season in 2011-12, averaging 18.7 PPG and 11.8 RPG. Bynum was then traded to the 76ers, but he did not play one game in Philadelphia. He was traded in a four team deal, moving Dwight Howard to Orlando and Andre Igoudala to the Nuggets. Unfortunately, Bynum suffered an injury in 2010. He did not play in 2011 or 2012 either, becoming almost irrelevant in the NBA. In 2013, the Cavaliers signed him. He was kicked out of practice on multiple occasions for being extremely selfish and always shooting the ball. Many NBA fans simply wonder: what the hell happened to Andrew Bynum? Did the spotlight get to him?
10 Succeeded: Dwight Howard
Dwight "Superman" Howard is known for his presence down low, but also his legendary dunk contest appearances. Dwight has been a menace in the paint since his enterance to the league in 2004.
9 Failed: DeSagna Diop
Diop led Oak Hill Academy to a 33-0 season, averaging 14.5 points per game, 13.2 RPG, and 8.1 blocks per game. A player who was such a presence was expected to be a great NBA player, someone who could chase down players in the paint. In 2001, he was selected 8th overall straight from high school. Diop played in 193 games in four seasons with Cleveland, but averaged a poor 1.6 PPG and 0.8 BPG. Scouts wondered why his success was so limited on the professional level, but it was evident that he was too immature on the court. He lacked strength and speed.
8 Succeeded: Tracy McGrady
Tracy McGrady was a versatile guard - a very athletic player. "T-mac" played basketball at Mount Zion Christian Academy, before entering the NBA Draft. He was an extremely highly scouted prospect and was named High School Player of the Year.
7 Failed: Ndudi Ebi
Ebi attended Westbury Christian School. He initially decided to go to University of Arizona, but made himself eligible for the 2003 NBA Draft. Ebi was selected 26th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He only played in 19 games in two seasons, proving to be physically unable to handle the pressure of the NBA. He was ineligible to compete in 2005 due to Development League contract issues. He was released by the team in 2005, and picked up by the Mavericks in 2006. Dallas released him after a couple of preseason games.
6 Succeeded: Kevin Garnett
KG was an intense big man, who was thought of to have unbelievable potential. He attended Maulin High School in South Carolina. Garnett left the school after a racially charged incident and attended Farragut Career Academy in Chicago his senior year. He was named the National High School Player Of The Year according to USA Today, and led his team to a 28-2 record. Garnett actually was planning on attending college, but he was unable to score a sufficient score on the ACT. Therefore, he could not meet the NCAA requirement. He has noted that he would have went to University of Maryland, a school he thought would give him good experience. He declared for the 1995 NBA Draft.
5 Failed: Korleone Young
Young was selected 40th overall in 1998. The Wichita East High School player decided to skip out on college after his senior season. Korleone did not tell his coach about his plans. His coach said this about his decision.
"Normally, when a kid is thinking about something like this, you'll hear about it. But with Korleone, it was a total surprise," said coach Kevin Seats.
4 Succeeded: Kobe Bryant
"The Black Mamba" made an immediate impact in the NBA. After a stellar senior season at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, Bryant was set to go to the NBA. He has commented about his initial desire to attend University of North Carolina, but he eventually decided against it. Bryant was selected 13th overall in the 1996 NBA draft by the Hornets, but was then traded to the Lakers. The Hornets were not aware they were trading a hall of fame athlete and one of the best basketball players of all time to Los Angeles.
Kobe's most notable season was in 2005-06, in which he averaged a whopping 35.4 points per game. His career would prove to be one of intensity, and he would cement himself as the best player in the NBA along with LeBron James. He is a five time NBA champion, a two time NBA Finals MVP, and an 18 time All Star. He is probably the best shooting guard of all time, and probably one of the top five to ever play the game.
3 Failed: Sebastian Telfair
Sebastian Telfair was once on the cover of SLAM magazine alongside LeBron James, with the feature story of the mag being called "The Takeover". Telfair was a young prospect out of Brooklyn who was expected to take the NBA by storm. He attended Abraham Lincoln High School in the Surfside Gardens Projects and initially was expected to go to Louisville. He ultimately decided on making the jump to the NBA and was selected 13th overall in 2004 by the Portland Trail Blazers.
2 Succeeded: LeBron James
LeBron James is arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. Straight from St. Vincent St. Mary's High School in Ohio, James stayed local with the Cavaliers. In his first season, LeBron would average 20.9 points per game. He was a lanky and athletic presence on the court, an athlete who fans knew would yield wins for his organization.
1 Failed: Kwame Brown
Kwame Brown is often noted as the biggest bust in NBA history. After a very successful high school career in Georgia, he was noted as the best prospect in his class. Like many players who transitioned from high school to the NBA, he initially had decided to attend the University of Florida. He then declared for the 2001 NBA Draft, disregarding the idea of attending college. Apparently, in a workout before the draft, Brown told Collins that he wouldn't regret drafting him. Unfortunately for Doug Collins, he would regret taking him, more than any other player in Wizards history.
Brown averaged 4.5 PPG and 3.5 RPG in his rookie season. He floated around the NBA there on, eventually ending up with the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2012-13 season. This would be his last season, in which he would average 1.9 points per game. Brown was unprepared for the NBA and the heightened competition. He was obviously overhyped and this is known by every person who initially said he was going to be a great player.
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