With the recent passing of another McDonald's All-America Game, it reminds us that watching high school players is not the same as watching the NBA. The high school all-star games are always fun opportunity for die hard basketball fans to get a glimpse into the future of the game at its highest level. That being said, there are usually more players in those games who do not go onto the NBA than there are players who actually make it to the league.
High school success is clearly valued by the scouting departments of NBA franchises. Year after year we see players who are only one year removed from high school being taken early in the NBA draft. Players like LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, and Kobe Bryant are huge reasons for that. Those players proved that if you dominate the high school game, you go on to become one of the greatest players of all time. However, today we will look at the mirror image, as we count down the 15 best high school players who flopped in the NBA, and find out what they are up to now that we know basketball didn't work out.
15 Eddy Curry
Curry appears on this list not because he was unable to have a productive NBA career (he did for a while), but rather because he failed to live up to his prodigious talent after declaring for the NBA Draft out of high school. The 7-footer was taken fourth overall by the Chicago Bulls, and was expected to be part of a dominant big-man pairing that included fellow 2001 draftee Tyson Chandler. While Curry’s ability to score is undeniable, his lack of interest when it came to rebounding was a major source of frustration for his coaches throughout his pro career.
While his 11-year NBA career saw him average 12.9 points and 5.2 rebounds, Curry was never the star that so many believed he would be when he entered the draft in 2001. As recently as a few months ago, it was rumored that Curry would be joining some fellow ex-NBA burnouts in what is being called the "Champions League." A league of ex ball players basically suiting up and running around a basketball court.
14 DeShawn Stevenson
Before his NBA career, Stevenson originally committed to play at the University of Kansas, but decided to enter the NBA directly from Washington Union High School in his hometown of Fresno, California. He was picked by the Utah Jazz with the 23rd selection of the 2000 NBA draft. The decision came after an incredibly dominant senior season. His NBA stock was rising and he believed it was time to make the jump, sadly it never worked out as he hoped.
Stevenson was what many call… a “wildcard” during his tenure in the league, probably best known for his little feuds with LeBron James. There were a few seasons where he was a serviceable player, but the expectations he set upon himself proved too heavy for him. Despite having not played since 2012, Stevenson refused to officially retire until December of last year. Now that he has made the announcement public, only time will tell what the future holds for DeShawn Stevenson.
13 Darius Miles
Miles was actually one of the more immediately successful prep-to-pros players. As a small forward he contributed to the Los Angeles Clippers right away after being taken with the third overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft. Miles was a high school All-American, a McDonald's All-American, as well as receiving many other honors during his prep career.
Though he had a lot of success initially, his performance plateaued over his first four seasons in the league, but a trade to the Portland Trail Blazers helped to increase his productivity. In the midst of the best season of his career, Miles suffered a knee injury that would effectively end his career. In total, Miles played bits of only eight seasons in the NBA, averaging 10.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Though Miles’ numbers were solid and the injury was hardly his own doing, his status as the third overall pick qualifies his career as somewhat of a bust.
It appears Miles has had a hard time adjusting to retired life. He recently filed for bankruptcy, even being forced to sell memorabilia he acquired during his playing days, including an autographed LeBron James jersey.
12 Martell Webster
It’s hard to call a guy who has carved out a role on a playoff team a bust, but the fact that Webster was selected as a high-lottery pick out of high school suggests expectations much greater than that of a rotation piece. Taken by the Portland Trail Blazers with the sixth pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, Webster is one of the last high schoolers to be taken with a lottery pick, and while he has proven to be a serviceable NBAer, he has hardly performed at the level expected out of a top-6 pick in the draft. Over 10 NBA seasons, Webster has averaged 8.7 points and 3.1 rebounds per game.
After suffering a season ending injury in 2015, Webster decided to go into the music world, releasing a hip-hop album. His days in the NBA look to be past him, but perhaps we will see him again in a music video someday.
11 Dajuan Wagner
Wagner had one of the single greatest high school games of all time during his senior year at Camden High School in New Jersey. Wagner scored 100 points in a single game that year, on his way to averaging over 40 points per game. Wagner was taken sixth overall in the 2002 draft by the Cavaliers.
Once he got to the NBA things got a lot tougher for the undersized guard. Unfortunately Wagner was never able to figure things out on the NBA level, after only four years in the league he was forced to retire due to Ulcerative Colitis. The disease forced him to step away from the game and changed his life forever. Wagner has spent years trying to make a comeback to the NBA, but it appears his body will not allow it. He currently owns a gym in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where he trains and helps others get in shape as well.
10 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.
Michael Jordan was not the only GM to see great potential in Brown. Teams across the league were lining up to make a move up the draft board in order to get the high school All-American. Brown was able to last 12 seasons in the NBA, thanks in large part to his enormous size and willingness to take less money in order to stay in the league. When he finally retired, Brown did so with career averages of just under seven points per game and five rebounds.
Brown was last seen in the NBA in 2013 with the Philadelphia 76ers. After his final game in Philadelphia, Brown opted to try his hand in overseas professional ball, where he has stayed ever since.
9 Jonathan Bender
In 1999 the Toronto Raptors drafted Jonathan Bender out of Picayune Memorial High School in Picayune, Mississippi. He was projected to be exactly what Kevin Durant actually turned out to be. Bender was a 7 feet, 200 pound skinny kid with freakish athleticism.
After selecting him fifth overall, the Raptors promptly traded him to the Indiana Pacers, for veteran forward Antonio Davis. The Pacers were hoping Bender would turn into a superstar, but it was still too early to know for sure at the time of the trade. As a teenager, Bender saw minimal court time, but in his third season he had the best year of his career, averaging over seven points and three rebounds. Following that season he signed a $28 million contract extension with the Pacers.
Unfortunately for Bender and the Pacers, Bender would fight injuries for the rest of his career. After retiring in 2010 Bender invented the JB Intensive Trainer, a resistance training device, that strengthened his knees, and he is still heavily involved with his company.
8 Ousmane Cisse
Ousmane Cisse attended Montgomery Catholic High School in Montgomery, Alabama. While in high school Cisse was a superstar, helping lead his team to a 2A State Championship. In his first game as a Catholic Knight, he broke the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s record for blocked shots… in the first half.
After his senior season of high school ball, he decided to put his name in the NBA Draft. Being a supremely undersized center, at only 6’9″ his stock was never incredibly high as a draft pick. Ultimately he was selected in the middle of the second round by the Denver Nuggets, who signed him, then released him after he suffered an injury before ever playing an NBA game. Cisse found his way onto the Harlem Globetrotters for a short period of time before playing in the USBL and overseas professionally.
7 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 dramatically 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 1998-99 season. After the season, Detroit cut Young, citing his injury problems as the main reason for his departure from the team.
Young attempted to earn his way onto the Philadelphia 76ers in 2000, but he was unable to crack the regular season roster. Korleone is one of the key players that people point to when defending David Stern’s decision to implement the one year removed from high school rule. Ultimately Young played a bit overseas, but his career never took off, and in 2009 he was arrested for failing to appear for a child support hearing. The last reportings on Young seemed to indicate troubled times ahead for the ex high school great.
6 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.
The New Orleans Hornets drafted Lang 48th overall in 2003, but he was unable to make the team due to back injuries. In 2005 Lang attended a pre-season camp with the Utah Jazz, but again he was unable to make the team’s 15-man roster. In 2006 the Washington Wizards gave Lang his first and only taste of NBA action. He appeared in 11 games for the Wizards where he averaged one point and one rebound per game. In 2009 his dream of ever playing pro ball again was snatched from him when he was partially paralyzed from a stroke.
5 Leon Smith
Leon Smith was selected out of Chicago’s famous Martin Luther King High School. He was a superstar talent during his time at King. After being recruited by most of the top collegiate programs of the time he opted to enter the NBA draft out of 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.
Smith never ended up playing a game with the Mavericks. It was a few months after being traded that he was committed to a psychiatric ward for some severe mental health issues. It was later reported that he had been committed because of an episode in which he threw a rock through a car window, and reportedly told police he was “an Indian fighting Columbus.” Smith has reportedly gotten help and has made great strides in gaining control of his issues. He even attempted a return to basketball, but it never really gained traction.
4 Ndudi Ebi
Another one of those stellar high school kids from the 2003 high school graduating class. Ndudi Ebi was rated the third best player in high school during his senior season, but sadly he turned out to be the biggest bust of the class.
The Timberwolves selected Ebi with their first round pick in 2003. Ebi spent three seasons with the Wolves appearing in only 19 games. During his third season Minnesota attempted to send him to the D-League, but league rules did not allow them to send him down. Ultimately the Wolves released Ebi to make room for a more promising young player.
After being released by Minnesota, Ebi was signed by the Dallas Mavericks but after only five preseason games, Ebi was released by Dallas, never to be seen in the NBA again. Ebi has spent the last 10 years playing all over the world in professional basketball leagues.
3 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.
As a 7’1 high school senior, Swift literally stood head and shoulders above his competition. After being a top 10 ranked high school prospect, Swift verbally agreed to attend USC after high school. However, after some further thought, Swift chose to take his talents to the NBA. In 2004 the Seattle SuperSonics drafted Swift with the 12th overall pick in the draft. Robert lasted four years in the NBA with a grand total of 97 games played. After bouncing around the D-League and the NBA, Swift found himself in legal trouble. In 2015, Swift was arrested for his involvement in an armed home invasion attempt. Swift claimed he was high on drugs at the time of the incident.
Thankfully now, it seems he's trying to straighten his life out, recently working out with the Santa Cruz Warriors of the NBA D-League in hopes of reviving his basketball career.
2 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.
Telfair was the pride of Brooklyn, New York during his days as a high school superstar. Many believed he was the greatest player to come out of New York City when he decided to enter the NBA Draft in 2004. The Portland Trail Blazers took the bait and drafted the undersized, flashy point man with the 13th overall pick in 2004. Sebastian lasted two seasons in Portland before he was shipped away to Boston. Ultimately Telfair played 10 seasons in the NBA, much of that time spent on the bench. He currently plays with the Fujian SBS Xunxing Sturgeons of the Chinese Basketball Association with hopes of returning to the NBA.
1 Greg Oden
It could be argued that Greg Oden is the greatest high school player of all time. I wouldn't make the argument personally, but there is an argument to be made. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year twice, Naismith Prep Player of the Year once, USA Today's Player of the Year twice, Parade Player of the Year once, Mr. Basketball USA once, and Gatorade's Athlete of the Year once. That resume alone speaks for itself.
After one year of college, which included a trip to the NCAA Title game, and the Defensive Player of the Year Award, Oden was selected first overall by the Portland Trail Blazers, ahead of Kevin Durant. Oden, of course, was stricken with bad knees and ankles which cut his NBA career short long before it had a chance to get going. After spending three seasons playing professionally in China, Greg has recently acknowledged that his playing days are behind him. He's returned to Ohio State to finish his degree and is the student manager for the Buckeyes basketball team.
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