In 2006 the NBA instituted a new rule regarding high school players making the jump straight from high school to the NBA. The rule was made with the players’ interests in mind, as well as the NBA’s level of play.
It all began in 1995 with Kevin Garnett. Well technically it began in 1963 with Reggie Harding, but the true flood of high school players to the NBA began with KG in 1995. It was Garnett who made it seem possible for stand-out high school players to skip college and jump straight into the NBA. The only thing was, many high school players, as talented as they may be, were not ready for the NBA lifestyle. Whether it be the immense amount of travel, the instant celebrity status or the money, some young adults fell flat on their face after being drafted. There's still debate as to whether the rule should be in place, but that's another story.
Now of course there have been some players who made the jump and did it was grace and incredible success. Some of the greatest player in NBA history were "prep to pro" players. Without further ado lets get into the 8 best and 7 worst players to skip college.
15 Best: 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.
As a 6’11” high school superstar in South Carolina, O’Neal drew attention from many NBA scouts during his senior year. The fact that he averaged 22.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.2 blocks a game also caught some scouts’ attention. You would assume that Jermaine had his pick of any Division I school he wanted, considering he was named the best player in SC his senior year, as well as being a McDonald’s All-American and a USA Today All-American. However, O’Neal scored poorly on his SAT test and many schools were skeptical to his eligibility once he arrived on campus. Jermaine weighed his options, ultimately opting for the NBA straight from high school.
14 Worst: Leon Smith
Leon Smith was selected out of Chicago’s famous Martin Luther King High School. He was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, 29th overall in the 1999 draft. On draft day he was immediately traded to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for the draft rights to Gordan Giriček and a second-round pick in the following year’s draft.
13 Best: 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 feet tall. By the time he got to high school he had physically developed 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.
12 Worst: James Lang
Part of the amazing 2003 high school graduating class, James Lang declared for the NBA straight out of high school along with LeBron James, Travis Outlaw, Ndudi Ebi and Kendrick Perkins. Lang, unfortunately had the worst luck of the four.
11 Best: Amar'e Stoudemire
Amar’e Stoudemire 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 Amar'e'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.
10 Worst: Sebastian Telfair
As a high school sophomore Telfair was on the cover of SLAM Magazine along with LeBron James. The headline across the cover of that magazine read, “The Takeover.” Well we all know how LeBron turned out; if you don’t, you've been living under a rock for 14 years.
9 Best: 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.
8 Worst: Ricky Sanchez
Ricky Sanchez was the fourth Puerto Rican player ever to be drafted. If you have never heard of Ricky that is not surprising. Sanchez has never played a single minute in an NBA game. After being taken with the 35th pick in the 2005 draft, Sanchez was immediately traded to the Denver Nuggets. That was the trend for Sanchez as his rights have been traded a total of four times. There is even a Philadelphia 76ers themed podcast titled “The Rights to Ricky Sanchez.”
7 Best : 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.
6 Worst: Kwame Brown
The first player to ever be selected number one overall straight out of high school, Kwame Brown was drafted by the Washington Wizards in 2001, a choice made by none other than Michael Jordan. Brown was ranked the best high school player in the country during his senior year, beating out future NBA players Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler.
5 Best: 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.
4 Worst: Korleone Young
As a high school player, Young was recruited by almost every powerhouse university in the country. With his stock high and money in his eyes, Young decided to skip college and go straight for the NBA. His stock slid drastically in the days and weeks heading into the draft, and in 1998 the Pistons selected him with the 40th pick. Young’s time with the Pistons was very short lived. He appeared in three games at the end of the 1999 season. After the season, Detroit cut Young, citing his injury problems as the main reason for his departure from the team.
3 Best: 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.
Garnett had been in a bit of a sticky legal spot after his junior year of high school when he was still living in South Carolina. Kevin and his mother decided it would be best if they moved to a new neighborhood and started fresh. KG spent his senior season at Farragut Career Academy in Chicago, Illinois. During that season he would become the High School Player of the Year, Illinois Mr. Basketball and a McDonald’s All-American.
2 Worst: Robert Swift
Robert Swift is one of the best examples of why kids should spend a year or two in college before entering a world of glitz, glamor, temptation and riches.
1 Best: 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 back to Cleveland. At only 31 years old, LeBron is still in the prime of his career. There is no telling how this fairy tale will end but it surly has been interesting.
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