The year was 1962, and the NBA was still a fairly young league, but the Detroit Pistons made history by drafting Reggie Harding. Harding became the first player in NBA history to be drafted straight out of high school. In 1975, the NBA witnessed its next batch of high school phenoms drafted into the league in Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby. After 1975, it was not until 1995 that another high school basketball star made the leap past the collegiate level straight to the NBA.
The Minnesota Timberwolves took a chance on a young high school player named Kevin Garnett in the first round. In 1996 and 1997, other high school superstars such as Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady made the jump from high school to the NBA. The trend seemed to be working as Garnett, Bryant, and McGrady blossomed into great NBA players, but eventually a lot of high school kids who were not ready for the NBA also skipped out on college in hopes of making basketball their profession for years to come. High school stars were starting to become hit or miss prospects in the NBA draft, and NBA scouts were becoming a distraction in high school gyms across the country.
In 2005, The NBA made it a rule that in order to be eligible for the draft a player had to be 19 and those entrants had to be at least one year removed from high school. Some players such as Brandon Jennings and Emmanuel Mudiay have opted to go from high school to other professional leagues around the world before entering the draft. A select few have been able to become great NBA players straight out of high school, but it seems like more often high school players have not been able to succeed. Here are the 15 worst high schoolers drafted into the NBA.
15 Darius Miles
Darius Miles seemed like he would be able to become a great player in the NBA when he came into the league in 2000, but character issues ultimately diminished any chance Miles had of achieving greatness. Miles was drafted by the Clippers but didn't last long with the team. The Clippers wanted to make a push for the playoffs and Miles wasn't progressing as they'd liked. The Cavaliers were in rebuilding mode, so they acquired the young forward. Cleveland Cavaliers GM at the time Jim Paxson said: "Darius Miles was the player we coveted in this deal. Sometimes you have to make bold moves to get better in the future." He sure wasn't coveting him later, as Miles was traded midway through the 2003-04 season.
During the 2005-06 NBA season Miles averaged a career high of 14 points per game. Unfortunately after this strong season with the Portland Trail Blazers, off the court issues began to arise, and Darius Miles did not get another opportunity to play in the NBA till the 2008-09 season with the Memphis Grizzlies.
14 Dorell Wright
Dorell Wright’s numbers scream of mediocrity, but he did enjoy a small amount of success while playing in the NBA. He garnered the reputation as a knockdown three point specialist. He was drafted in the 2004 NBA draft, and was the last of eight high school basketball stars taken in 2004, by the Miami Heat. Wright had a good opportunity awaiting him in Miami. The Heat had just selected Dwyane Wade the year prior and the expectations were for Wright to form a strong duo with D-Wade. Wright stuck around long enough to win a championship with the Heat in 2006, but needless to say, it was not because of Wright carrying the team.
The Golden State Warriors brought out the best in Wright during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 NBA seasons when he averaged 16 and 10 points per game.
13 DeShawn Stevenson
DeShawn Stevenson had a lengthy NBA career, and was able to enjoy the feeling of winning an NBA championship in 2011 while playing for the Dallas Mavericks. Before he got there though, Stevenson found himself on several teams. He was drafted by the Utah Jazz with the 23rd overall pick in 2000. In 222 regular season games with the Jazz, Stevenson averaged a mere 5.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg, and 1.2 apg. The Jazz eventually ran out of patience with Stevenson and he was traded to the Orlando Magic prior to the 2004 trade deadline.
His role seemed to be mainly as a starter for whichever team he was playing on. Playing 10 plus years in the league is not an easy feat, and Stevenson’s vibrant personality and his ability to be a good team player helped him enjoy longevity in the NBA. Following his stint in Orlando, he played for the Washington Wizards, Dallas Mavericks, the Nets and finally the Atlanta Hawks.
12 Reggie Harding
Reggie Harding was the first high school player ever drafted into the NBA in 1962, and actually did not have terrible numbers while playing in the league. He did not play at all in his rookie year, which may have shown that he was not truly ready for the level of competition in the league. He possessed an incredible physique standing at seven feet tall and weighing over 240 pounds. He averaged 9 points and 9 rebounds during his four year career, but he had a lot of off the court problems. Reggie Harding got in trouble with the law, and sadly passed away at the young age of 30 years old.
Reggie Harding was the poster child for those who felt that high school players should not be drafted into the NBA. His former Pistons teammate Ray Scott said Harding's story was that of a great tragedy.
Reggie was a ‘could’ve been,’” Scott says. “He could’ve been so much more. He couldn’t cut his environment loose. As a tragedy, it’s almost Shakespearean. The more successful he became, the more he wanted to get back to that environment.
11 Kendrick Perkins
Kendrick Perkins does not have eye popping numbers by any means, but he has been a defensive stalwart since being drafted into the league in 2003. He was picked 27th overall in a star studded draft class, but perhaps he would have benefited by going to college for a year. While his career hasn't been a total failure, it feels like there was still so much untapped potential that Perkins could not reach.
His first eight years in the NBA were with the Boston Celtics, and he was even able to win an NBA championship accompanied by Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Perkins has been made out to be a dirty player and an instigator during his time in the league, and has gotten into his fair share of scuffles over the years.
10 Kwame Brown
Many thought when Kwame Brown was selected number one overall, that he could be one of the best big men of his generation. It did not take long for people to see that he was perhaps one of the biggest busts in NBA history, and is one of the many deterrents of Michael Jordan’s front office career. Brown seemed like a very genuine human being and sounded like a guy you wanted to root for. At the time he was drafted, Brown said it was a huge honor for MJ to select him first overall.
"The guy took probably the biggest risk of his life, picking a high school player Number 1," Brown said. "I'm conscious that if I screw up, I'm messing with Michael's reputation. I know he's going to work me to death." Perhaps that pressure was too much to put on a high school kid.
There have been some transcendent number one overall picks in NBA history, but Kwame Brown never even got close to that level. Brown's career stat line of 6 points and 5 rebounds per game shows just how much he struggled at the NBA level.
9 Bill Willoughby
Bill Willoughby came into the NBA during the same year as Darryl Dawkins, but was unable to turn heads the way Chocolate Thunder did. Willoughby was an NBA journeyman, and never averaged over 21 minutes a game in any of his nine years of professional basketball. He played in both the NBA and the ABA, and surely could have benefited from playing college basketball instead of making the giant leap into the NBA straight from high school. Willoughby was a good team player, which helped him stay in the NBA and ABA for so long despite sub par numbers.
Willoughby averaged 6 points and 4 rebounds per game, and was arguably the first high school player who made the leap to the NBA prematurely.
8 DeSagana Diop
DeSagana Diop came from a well-respected high school in Oak Hill Academy, which has produced many other NBA players, and has seen a lot of its players go on to top notch college basketball programs. However despite the school's strong pedigree, in hindsight, it probably would have made sense for Diop to go to college and hone his craft a little more before jumping to the NBA level. He made the leap to the NBA when entering the 2001 NBA draft. Diop was best known for his time with the Dallas Mavericks, and was a part of the Western Conference championship team during the 2005-06 season.
7 Jonathan Bender
Most NBA franchises expect to draft a player that will start for their team for many years when selecting a player in the top 5 of the NBA draft. Jonathan Bender however spent most of his career riding the pine, and not making much of an impact for the teams he played on. The Raptors were the ones who selected Bender fifth overall in the 1999 NBA Draft, but quickly traded him to the Indiana Pacers. Boy, the Raptors dodged a bullet there. Amazingly Bender became the first high school player to hit double digits in his debut. Sadly to say, that proved to be the highlight of his career in Indiana.
Despite being a 7 footer, Bender could actually shoot the three well for a big guy at 34 percent. He spent most of his career playing for the Indiana Pacers. He was plagued by injuries throughout his time in the Midwest and took a hiatus from the game of basketball following the 2005-06 season.
6 Robert Swift
Robert Swift was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in the first round of the 2004 NBA draft. He came to the NBA from Bakersfield High School in the competitive basketball state of California, and was highly touted during his high school career. Being that he was a 12th overall pick, reasonable expectations were for Swift to at least be a solid contributor from the get go and develop into a good NBA player. Injuries plagued Swift throughout his NBA life, and this impacted his ability to stay in good enough shape to prolong his time in the league.
5 Sebastian Telfair
Coming into the NBA, Sebastian Telfair had big shoes to fill due to his cousin Stephon Marbury having success in the league. Telfair may have been the most talked about high school player coming into the league during the 2004 NBA draft, which saw an influx of high school basketball stars skip college to pursue their NBA dreams. After such a legendary draft class like that of 2003, the 2004 class had a tough act to follow.
The bridge between average and great was never crossed by Telfair. He enjoyed his best season during the 2007-08 NBA season with the Minnesota Timberwolves when he averaged 9 points and 6 assists per game, but he never could eclipse these numbers.
Sebastian Telfair averaged 7 points and 4 assists per game for his career, and his last appearance in the NBA came with the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2014-15 NBA season. Telfair wound up playing for eight different teams during his career, as club after club kept giving Telfair a chance hoping they could be the team to turn his career around.
4 Ndudi Ebi
Ndudi Ebi was selected with the 26th pick in the first round of the 2003 NBA draft. He is of Nigerian decent, and his NBA career only lasted 19 games over two seasons. In his first season with the Minnesota Timberwolves he only played in 17 games, and only played in two games in his second season. He never made it back in the NBA after two poor statistical seasons in the NBA. He played a little bit in the NBDL, but did not put up dominant numbers while in the development league.
Posting 12 points and 6 rebounds a game is pretty good in the NBA, but reaching the NBA from the developmental league requires ruling the lower level competition.
Ebi was undoubtedly the most disappointing draft pick from 2003. He has since taken his career overseas and was most recently playing in Italy.
3 Korleone Young
Korleone Young had one of the briefest stints in NBA history after being drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the second round of the 1998 NBA draft. He only played in a total of three games for the Detroit Pistons, and only contributed 13 points and 4 rebounds in those three games. Young could have pursued to play in the NCAA and play at one of the top programs in the country most likely, but mistakenly entered the NBA draft. It's a mistake that was common before the rule prohibiting high school players from declaring was instituted. For every success story, there was a disappointment like Young.
2 Leon Smith
Leon Smith was drafted in the first round of the 1999 NBA draft by the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are not normally associated with players that were busts, but they wisely traded him away to the Dallas Mavericks before he ever played a game for the Spurs. He proved to be unworthy of the Mavericks roster. Smith finally got to fulfill his NBA dream with the Atlanta Hawks during the 2001-02 NBA season, but that dream became a nightmare after playing only 14 games for the Hawks.
1 James Lang
James Lang was selected in the second round of the 2003 NBA draft, but did not see any regular season game action until the 2005-06 NBA season. The Washington Wizards took a chance on Lang. The NBA dream was extremely short lived, and after just 11 games his NBA career was over. It's truly a shame that a young man would forgo college only to see his pro career end so quickly.
Only averaging 1 point and 1 rebound per game certainly played a part in him not being able to continue his NBA life. James Lang stood 6-foot-10 and was an enormous 285 pounds. The extra body weight that he carried with him was extremely noticeable, and caused him to not have much stamina while playing the game.
By 2009, Lang had found himself in the D-League. Unfortunately the day after Thanksgiving in 2009, Lang suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. His basketball career was over by the age of 26. The stroke was a sad way to see his career end.
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