The NBA made a drastic change in their eligibility requirements back in 2005. That year the NBA and the NBA Players Union agreed to institute a new rule requiring any players entering the NBA to be at least nineteen years old, and one calendar year removed from high school. Prior to 2005 players were free to enter the NBA draft as soon as they were finished with their high school career.
Throughout the 70 years that the NBA has been in existence, there have been a total of 44 players drafted into the league straight out of high school. The first player to do so was Reggie Harding back in 1962. Harding's career didn't amount to much, and his story made many teams shy away from drafting high schoolers. It wasn't until Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby in 1975 that another high schooler was drafted. Again, neither of those players changed the landscape of the league, although they both did have respectable careers.
In 1995 Kevin Garnett changed the perception of what a high school player could do in the NBA. He entered the league with the physical tools needed to make an impact immediately. Once Garnett set the precedent, the flood gates opened and between 1995 and 2005 there were 41 high school players drafted. Obviously not all 41 of these players turned out like Kevin Garnett, but today we will rank the top 20, and we will take a look at what they are up to today.
20 Thon Maker
Thon is an interesting entry as he was drafted in the 2016 draft. You may be wondering how he could have been drafted out of high school with the eligibility rule in place. Maker was able to convince the NBA that he finished high school in 2015 but stayed for an extra year, which was referred to as a "post graduate" year. He was successful in convincing the league of that, thus becoming eligible for the 2016 NBA draft.
19 Kendrick Perkins
Kendrick Perkins was one of five players taken out of high school back in 2003. He was the 27th pick in the first round, a selection made by the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies drafted Perkins, then immediately traded him to the Boston Celtics. Perkins would ultimately help anchor a championship defense with the Celtics along side Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo.
18 Andrew Bynum
Back in 2009 Andrew Bynum was expected to become an NBA superstar, and potentially become the best big man in the game. Bynum established himself as a bright spot in the league when he was with the Lakers, as he played the role of center during the Lakers' last two NBA titles. It started to become clear that he didn't have the mental skill set to ascend to the heights many believed possible for him.
17 Josh Smith
Josh Smith was drafted 17th overall in 2004 by the Atlanta Hawks. He proved to be worth a first round pick for the Hawks as he averaged double digit points in all but one of his nine seasons there. He was know for his incredible dunking abilities as a youngster, even winning the 2005 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
16 Darryl Dawkins
Darryl Dawkins was one of the pioneers of the high school to pro phenomenon. He played fourteen seasons in the NBA, most famously with the Philadelphia 76ers who drafted him 5th overall in 1975. During the 1979-80 season, Dawkins was a vital piece for a Sixers team who made it to the NBA Finals, only to come up short to the Los Angeles Lakers.
15 Lou Williams
As a late second round pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2005, the future didn't look bright for Lou in the beginning. His minutes were very limited during his first two seasons in Philadelphia, but once he was given some time on the court his production began to rise.
14 Shaun Livingston
Coming out of high school Livingston was regarded as one of the top prospects in the draft. The Clippers needed a point guard to lead their young, fast paced offense, and Livingston was their choice. They selected him 4th overall in 2004, but in true Clipper fashion, Livingston blew out his knee. The injury was so debilitating, many believed he would never play basketball again.
13 Monta Ellis
Monta Ellis came into the league in 2005 with an elite level offensive game, but it was his defensive liability and immaturity that caused him to drop into the second round. Ellis was taken 40th overall by the Golden State Warriors, who at the time, were searching for scoring options and viewed Ellis as a potential solution to their problem.
12 Al Harrington
Originally drafted by the Indiana Pacers back in 1998, Harrington broke into the league just after his 18th birthday. After a few seasons with the Pacers it began to look like Harrington would become another bust drafted prematurely. However, in 2004 the Pacers dealt him to the Hawks, and with that change of scenery, Harrington became a different player. From that point on, Harrington became almost a shoo-in for seventeen points and seven rebounds.
11 Al Jefferson
The most storied franchise in NBA history got into the high school draftee game back in 2004. The Boston Celtics selected Jefferson with the 15th overall pick back in 2004. He lasted three seasons in Boston, which was not enough time for him to realize his potential, but the trade enabled Boston to acquire Kevin Garnett, and we all know how that worked out for the Celtics.
10 Jermaine O'Neal
Jermaine O’Neal grew up in South Carolina under the guidance of a single mother. Growing up without much parental control, O’Neal was left to fiend for himself much of the time. Luckily for Jermaine, he found basketball at an early age and he was able to devote his time to something that would pay off in the long run.
9 Rashard Lewis
Rashard Lewis is a player who has never gotten the credit he deserves for his impact on the current state of NBA basketball. Lewis was one of the first seven footers to be able to knock down the three-point shot with regularity. Lewis and Ray Allen formed the original version of the splash brothers when they teamed up in Seattle during the early 2000s.
8 J.R. Smith
During his time at Saint Benedict’s Preparatory School in New Jersey, Smith averaged over 27 points, six rebounds, and five assists per game on his way to being a McDonald’s All-American. After winning c0-MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game, Smith decided to enter himself into the NBA Draft.
7 Amar'e Stoudemire
Amar’e Stoudamire had one of the roughest childhoods of anyone on this list. His parents split when he was very young. At age 12, Stoudemire’s father died, and his mother was in and out of prison for most of Amare’s youth. With his parents out of the picture, Stoudemire spent time living with coaches and friends. As he entered high school his mother was in and out of his life, causing him much more drama than a teenager should be able to handle. Amar’e bounced to five different high schools in four years, only being able to play basketball two of those years. Both of those years he was named MVP of the Nike Summer League. It was clear he had a future in the game, it was just a matter of him getting the opportunities.
6 Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler was one of the greatest high school basketball players in the history of high school hoops. As a 9-year-old, Chandler was already almost 6′ tall. By the time he got to high school he was developed physically into his enormous frame. As a high school player Chandler went to famed Dominguez high near Compton, California. During his four years at Dominguez, Chandler was a celebrity. He drove an Escalade, got the girls, and even had a segment on 60 Minutes about him. In his senior season Tyson led Dominguez to a California state championship, averaging 20 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, and three blocks per game.
5 Tracy McGrady
In 1997 anyone who payed attention to high school athletics knew who Tracy McGrady was. Not only was T-Mac viewed as one of the greatest basketball players in America, he was also a top baseball prospect as well.
4 Dwight Howard
As far as high school players go, there are not many who were more dominant than Dwight. He won practically every high school award there is during his senior season including Gatorade Player of the Year, Naismith Prep Player of the Year, and the McDonald’s Player of the Year.
3 Kevin Garnett
There is something to be said about being the first to do something. In 1995 Kevin Garnett did something that had not been done in decades when he entered the NBA Draft straight out of high school.
2 Kobe Bryant
What is there to say about “The Black Mamba” that hasn’t already been said? In high school Kobe was named Player of the Year as a junior. He led his high school team to a 77-13 record over his final three seasons, and he went straight to the NBA as an 18-year-old.
Once he got to the NBA, Kobe would become one of the greatest player to ever play the game. After being drafted by the Hornets, he was promptly traded to the Los Angeles Lakers where he became one half of the greatest big man-little man combos ever. He and Shaquille O’Neal would go on to win three NBA titles together before the two had to go their separate ways. Kobe retired last season to the greatest farewell tour a basketball player has ever seen, and it was well deserved. Bryant’s legacy is something that can never be taken away and the fact that he was not selected until the 13th pick in the draft is something that twelve unlucky general managers will never live down.
1 LeBron James
LeBron James was a celebrity long before his rookie season in the NBA. During his junior year, he was having his high school games broadcast live on ESPN. His team’s games were often played in college gymnasiums so that they could fit all the people in to see him play.
When LeBron made the jump from high school to the NBA it was a forgone conclusion where he would be drafted. It was a fairytale storyline. His hometown Cleveland Cavaliers owned the rights to the number one pick back in 2003 and LeBron was coming to save Cleveland, or so it seemed. As he progressed through his career he found road blocks at every turn on his way to an NBA championship. James ultimately realized he needed more help than Cleveland could offer, and he infamously “took his talents to South Beach” to join the Miami Heat.
After four straight trips to the NBA Finals, LeBron took his talents back to Ohio, and since then he has guided the Cavs to two consecutive NBA Finals appearances, including last season when he finally brought a championship to Cleveland. At only 32 years old, LeBron is still in the prime of his career. There is no telling how this fairy tale will end but it surely has been interesting so far.
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