Long gone are the days when young professional basketball hopefuls could count on going into the NBA and getting rich right out of high school. These days, you have to at least spend one year in college, in what is commonly known as the one and done. This deal was supposedly intended to help players, like the ones we will talk about on this list, to get an education so they could continue on with their lives if basketball doesn’t work out.
This new extra step likely benefited several players since there are young athletes who seem to be the next big thing when they play in high school, but turn out to be huge disappointments when they get to the NBA. Surprisingly, a lot of 5-star recruits fall into this category.
Top colleges all across the country throw huge scholarships at these guys, in desperate attempts of making them choose to go to their institution and represent their colors in the NCAA. Some 5-star recruits who do the one and done are great deals for colleges, especially Kentucky, as they contend for the NCAA title every year despite being so young. And yet, there are a few, who even before the NBA, become busts in college.
These were the players we had in mind when putting together this list of 15 5-star basketball recruits who never made it in the NBA. These, are the guys who carried all the hype going into their professional careers and failed to prove a point when they finally got their shot on the big stage.
15 Josh Selby
Coming straight out of Baltimore, the first bust on our list is a rather recent one. Josh Selby was a 6’2” guard who a lot of people hoped would become a prolific NBA player. Selby was so athletic it was almost ridiculous. Named a 2010 McDonald’s All-American, this kid also won the dunk contest that same year.
Along with being ranked number five in the ESPN 100, Selby got a scholarship and went to play for the University of Kansas. His college career was short, full of controversy, and marked by an injury that kept him away from the court for quite some time. Starting only 11 games for Kansas, his stock went down and Selby was only drafted with the 49th pick in the 2011 draft. The NBA was not easier for Selby, as after just a couple of seasons he left the league never to return.
14 LeBryan Nash
LeBryan Nash was one of the top-ranked small forwards in the country coming out of high school and signing to play for Oklahoma State University. At 6’8” and with a knack for scoring the basketball, Nash was a key player for Oklahoma State while he was there, averaging 14 points and more than seven rebounds in his sophomore season with the Cowboys.
But this guy’s career started getting interesting after he went undrafted in the 2015 NBA draft. Instead of going to the D-League or Europe as most guys do, Nash went to play in Japan. As you would expect, he was a monster there. Nash even scored 54 points in a game, breaking the league’s record.
Since then, Nash had a shot with the Rockets but was waived in 2016 and subsequently dropped by their D-League affiliate in 2017.
13 Adonis Thomas
Stats for top high school prospects tend to be ridiculous. But even by those standards, averaging 19.2 points, 12.3 rebounds, 4.9 blocks, 4.1 assists, and 3.6 steals is ridiculous. Those were the stats that lifted Adonis Thomas all the way to the number nine rank in the ESPN 100 for the class of 2011. Scouted by several top programs, he eventually signed with Memphis and played a couple of solid seasons despite some trouble with injuries.
However, his decent seasons in college were not enough to help him get drafted in 2013. With that, Thomas was left to fight for a spot in the NBA through summer league games and the D-League. His NBA career can be resumed to the six games he played, four for Orlando and two for Philadelphia, in which he averaged 2.3 points per game. He plays in Turkey today.
12 Perry Jones
Perry Jones was as good as high school ballplayers came. A 6’11” forward who could slash to the basket as well as shoot lights out from the perimeter, this Louisiana native could’ve been the next Kevin Durant. As a matter fact, a lot of people were counting on it given that even his body was similar to Durant’s.
Unlike several of the other guys on this list, Jones went on to have a successful college career. Playing two seasons for Baylor, he averaged more than 13 points and seven rebounds before declaring for the 2012 draft. That’s where the disappointment began. Despite being projected to be a lottery pick, Jones fell to the 28th overall spot and was selected by Oklahoma City. His NBA career wouldn’t last long as he played three unimpressive seasons with the Thunder before being sent to the D-League.
11 Ndudi Ebi
At 6’10” tall and 195 pounds, this British-Nigerian power forward was one of the big promises coming out of the stacked 2003 high school class. As a matter fact, he was ranked number four in the country by Rivals, ahead of players like Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, and Charlie Villanueva.
The interesting thing about Ebi is that despite committing to the University of Arizona, something led him to declare for the NBA draft before ever attending the college and eventually losing NCAA eligibility. He did get picked late in the first round by Minnesota, but perhaps going to college would’ve been the better choice.
Ebi only played 19 games with the Timberwolves before being waived and eventually moving to play overseas. He currently plays for Shahrdari Tabriz of the Iranian Basketball Super League
10 Kaleb Tarczewski
Another recent entry on our list, big man Kaleb Tarczewski was one of the top big men out of the 2012 high school class. This 5-star recruit ranked number four in the ESPN 100 and went on to play college ball for the University of Arizona. In his four years with the Wildcats, Tarczewski was a solid contributor, but never more than that. He averaged 8.8 points and 6.5 rebounds throughout his college career. He declared for the draft after his senior year but ended up going undrafted in 2016.
Tarczewski made a couple of summer league rosters but unavoidably ended up becoming a D-League player. After his experience in the development league, the 7-footer decided to make a move overseas and currently plays in Italy.
9 Xavier Henry
One of the interesting aspects of putting together this list was checking out how a lot of these guys were ranked higher than current NBA superstars. Take Xavier Henry for example. He was ranked number three in the ESPN 100 for the high school class of 2009. Just try to guess two guys ranked lower than him. Here’s a little hint; both of them were one and dones in Kentucky.
You nailed it if you said John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. But as opposed to Cousins and Wall, Henry never found success in the NBA. He played well in college and was drafted with the 12th overall pick by the Memphis Grizzlies, but ended up only playing five seasons in the league. His most successful one was with the Lakers in 2013-14 when he averaged 10 points per game.
8 Quincy Miller
Quincy Miller is the perfect example of how volatile high school rankings can be. This kid was an unknown from Chicago as a freshman, but after transferring to a high school in North Carolina and growing 8 inches during his sophomore year, he quickly became one of the most talked about players in the country. At some point in 2010, Miller was rated as the top prospect in the 2011 high school class by SLAM Magazine. He ended up going to college ranked as the number seven recruit in the country by ESPN.
Miller helped Baylor to one of their most successful seasons, averaging 10.6 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. He was drafted by the Nuggets in the second round of the 2012 NBA draft and would go on to play 69 NBA games, averaging 4.3 points per game throughout his career until leaving the league in 2015. Today, Miller plays in Europe.
7 Joshua Smith
He might not be the tallest, but Joshua Smith certainly is one of the biggest guys on this list. At 6’10” and 290 pounds, this young man was a beast coming out of high school. He was such a dominant forward that Rivals ranked him above players like Al Jefferson, Rudy Gay, and Sebastian Telfair.
Even when he arrived in college for his first practice at UCLA, he was already the most dominant guy down on the block. But despite all of that potential, Smith is one of those players who never really developed from being a diamond in the rough. He transferred to Georgetown halfway through college and finished his senior season averaging 10.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Those numbers were not enough to impress NBA teams, and Smith went undrafted in 2015. Without ever playing a regular-season game, he played in the D-League and even went to play in the Philippines for a while.
6 Anthony Bennett
This list is full of high school players who hinted that they were not made for the pro game during their college years and saved NBA teams a lot of headaches. That is not the case with Anthony Bennett. Sure, one might argue that the 2013 NBA draft was not stacked. But there were still at least 20 or 30 other players who ended up being better than Anthony Bennett. And still, the Cavaliers took this guy with the first pick.
It didn’t seem to be such a bad choice at the time as this young man was a top 10 recruit out of high school and averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game during his one and done season with UNLV. Nevertheless, with career averages of 4.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, we can confidently say that Bennett is a 5-star recruit who never made it in the league. A testament to that is that he currently plays in Turkey.
5 BJ Mullens
Perhaps the most common position for players who were overvalued in their youth is the center spot. When basketball players are still in their early to mid teens, big men are unavoidably the most attractive prospects on the court. Of course, there are the little guys who dazzle with their ball handling skills and sometimes shooting ability, but most of the lower-level games are played near the rim, and that is where the big guys flourish.
Byron Mullens is a perfect example of that. At 7 feet tall and weighing in at 260 pounds, this center out of Ohio was ranked number five in the ESPN 100 for the high school class of 2008, ahead of guys like Demar DeRozan and Kemba Walker. Unlike those other two, however, Mullens had a subpar college career and only survived five seasons in the NBA.
4 Myck Kabongo
In the age of YouTube and social media, videos of young players doing crazy things have gone viral more than once. These days you get to watch LaMelo Ball pull-up from half court and Zion Williams dunk on everybody whenever you want. But when the 2011 class of high school players was in the spotlight, few guys were as hyped because of online videos as the Congolese-Canadian point guard, Myck Kabongo.
Even today, if you watch those videos, you will think that this kid is the real deal. Handles, flair, skill, he had it all. Unfortunately for Kabongo, the hype was not enough for a real shot at the NBA. He declared for the draft in 2013 but went undrafted. After a few seasons bouncing around the D-League, he moved overseas and currently plays in Romania.
3 Samardo Samuels
Another big man representing the high school class of 2008, Samardo Samuels was the number two prospect in the ESPN 100 that year, trailing only behind Brandon Jennings. One would expect this 6’9” powerhouse from Jamaica to become a force to be reckoned with in college and eventually the NBA. After all, he received scholarship offers from Louisville, Florida, and North Carolina just to name a few schools.
He did have a rather successful college career at the University of Louisville but decided to skip his final two years and try his luck in the NBA. Samuels went undrafted but was picked up by the Cavaliers after the summer league. He played three seasons in Cleveland, but never really left a solid impression. Today, he plays in the Euroleague.
2 Keith Brumbaugh
Usually, the guys who earn the “Mr. Basketball” award during high school in their respective states, are players who could go on to have solid professional careers. Back in 2005, a top high school prospect named Keith Brumbaugh was taking the first step towards what looked like would be a promising career when he signed with Oklahoma State.
That’s when things started spiraling down. Like a helicopter falling, Brumbaugh seemed to have lost control of his future as eligibility issues surrounding his ACT scores forced him out of Oklahoma State. According to ESPN, after that Brumbaugh was arrested six times over a period of 26 months and also served two jail sentences. His professional career consisted of a couple of years in the D-League. Most recently, he was arrested for a road rage incident, in which he apparently threw a piece of broken cinderblock at another man.
1 Lenny Cooke
If you have been a fan of basketball for quite some time, the odds are very high that you have heard this name before. Lenny Cooke is famous for being the guy who was supposedly better than LeBron James. Yes, in a period when LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, as well as several other NBA superstars, were in high school, this guy was the number one ranked high school basketball player in America. Yes, this guy was ranked higher than LeBron.
However, things went downhill for Cooke after he faced James in one of the nation’s highest profile basketball camps. The King eclipsed him, and Cooke was never the same. The former number one prospect went undrafted in the 2002 NBA Draft. He would go on to be part of summer league rosters, but Cooke never really made it in the NBA.