This year, 2016, marks 10 years since the NBA first implemented its age minimum for drafted players. Before 2006, any player who completed four years of high school could forego college and declare for the NBA draft. Now, prospects must complete at least one year of college education, commonly referred to as “one-and-done,” before declaring.
Reggie Harding became the first “prep-t0-pro” player in the NBA when the Detroit Pistons took him in the fourth round of the 1962 draft. Since then, countless players have followed in his footsteps. Legends like Moses Malone, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James have all made the jump straight from high school to the NBA.
However, for many players, the transition is too much too soon. The level of competition in high school compared to college is night and day, and the difference is even more pronounced between high school and the NBA. College programs serve as important stepping stones, not only in terms of developing against greater competition, but learning the basics of teamwork, discipline, and determination. College courses can also educate players on financial literacy, and how to avoid the pitfalls of sudden fame and fortune.
Unfortunately, the lack of a college degree comes back to haunt some players in retirement, when they need to find new lines of employment. It begs the question: where are they now?
15 Darius Miles
Miles entered the 2000 NBA draft as a highly touted small forward out of East St. Louis High School. The Los Angeles Clippers took Miles with the third overall pick, and the 6-foot-9 forward lived up to expectations, at least initially. He was the first high school player to make the NBA All-Rookie Team in 2001.
Miles was traded to Cleveland after two years in Los Angeles, where he started a career-high 62 games. He was traded again in 2004, this time to the Portland Trail Blazers, and averaged a career-best 14 points per game during the 2005-2006 season.
Miles’ career was ultimately derailed by a 2006 knee injury, which kept him on the sidelines for the next two seasons as he recovered from microfracture surgery. Miles made a brief comeback attempt with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2008 but was not re-signed the following offseason.
Things haven’t gone swimmingly for Miles in retirement. He was arrested in August 2011 after he was caught with a loaded gun in his carry-on at St. Louis’ Lambert Airport.
He filed for bankruptcy in September 2016, listing $1.57 million in liabilities, despite making over $62 million during his playing career.
14 James Lang
James Lang’s NBA story is somewhat tragic. The former second-round pick from Central Park Christian School in Alabama didn’t play a single NBA game until 2006. The New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans) took Lang with the 48th overall pick in the 2003 draft. Yet, he was waived just months later after back injuries kept him off the court.
After a failed comeback attempt with the Utah Jazz in 2005, Lang played mostly in the D-League before dressing for one game with the Wizards in 2006. He played 11 games total, averaging one point per contest.
He went back to the D-League and even played in Israel after his NBA dream ended.
The truly tragic aspect to all of this came the day after Thanksgiving in 2009 when Lang suffered a stroke that left the entire right side of his body paralyzed. He was 280 pounds at the time and had long been struggling with weight issues.
Thankfully, Lang survived his health scare, but little has been heard from him since.
13 Andrew Bynum
Bynum may have been an All-Star in 2012, but he was out of the NBA just two years later.
The seven-foot center was drafted out of St. Joseph’s in New Jersey with the 10th pick in the 2005 draft. The Lakers hoped Bynum would be the team’s franchise center, but the only thing Bynum proved to be was brittle. He only played ONE complete 82-game season (2006-2007) as knee injuries kept him sidelined for much of his seven-year run in Los Angeles.
Bynum spent the final two seasons of his career with the Cavaliers and the Pacers, appearing in 26 out of a possible 164 games due to suspensions and injuries.
Bynum has laid low since the Pacers cut him in 2014, but was recently spotted at Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals by ESPN reporter Ramona Shelburne. Supposedly, Bynum was traveling across the country and was in the Cleveland area. His Instagram account is fraught with pictures of his world travels, so it’s safe to say he won’t be returning to the NBA anytime soon.
12 Ndudi Ebi
The Timberwolves struck gold when they drafted Kevin Garnett out of high school in 1995. I can’t say the same for their 2003 selection of Ndudi Ebi out of Westbury Christian School in Houston, TX.
The Wolves should’ve been alerted to Ebi’s commitment issues from the start. After all, the Nigerian-born shot blocker backed off his promise to play for the University of Arizona when he declared for the NBA draft.
Ebi played 19 total games over his first two years in the league and averaged a disappointing 2.1 points per game and one rebound per game. The Wolves wanted to send Ebi to the D-League, but he was ineligible since he was in his third season. The NBA denied the Wolves’ request, and the team waived Ebi in November 2005.
The 6-foot-9 former first-round pick signed a summer league contract with the Dallas Mavericks but was cut before the start of the 2005-06 season. Since then, Ebi has played overseas, mostly for Italian teams in Serie A.
As of 2016, Ebi plays for Manama Club in the Bahraini Premier League.
11 DeSagana Diop
Diop had all the makings of a dominant center in the NBA when the Cavaliers selected him eighth overall in the 2001 draft. At seven feet and 280 pounds, Diop was a towering presence who averaged over 14 points and eight blocks during his senior season at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.
However, Diop played just under 11 minutes per game over 193 games for the Cavaliers from 2001-2005. He averaged a putrid 1.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 0.8 blocks per game.
Diop’s play dramatically improved after his free-agent signing with the Dallas Mavericks in 2005. He ranked fourth in blocks per 48 minutes during the 2005-06 season and averaged a career-high 5.4 rebounds per game in 2006-07.
However, his totals declined after a January 2009 trade to the Charlotte Bobcats (now Charlotte Hornets). He played just 133 out of a possible 410 games over five seasons in Charlotte. Diop retired after Cleveland waived him in 2013.
Fortunately, Diop stuck around the basketball world. In 2016, Diop accepted an assistant coaching position with the Utah Jazz after a two-year tenure as a player development coach in the D-League.
10 Andray Blatche
The former five-star recruit spent five years playing high school hoops for Henninger High School in Syracuse, NY, and South Kent High School in Connecticut. Blatche entered the draft as the second-ranked power forward in the nation in 2005. He was projected to go in the first round but dropped to the second round, where the Washington Wizards took him with the 49th overall pick.
Unfortunately, Blatche couldn’t replicate his high school success on the NBA stage. He played just 28 games for the Wizards as a rookie in 2005-06. He averaged 2.3 points and 1.3 rebounds per game.
Blatche improved on his totals over the following seasons, but by March of 2012, his conditioning was lacking. The Wizards benched the power forward and eventually waived him that July. Blatche has since expressed his displeasure at Wizards’ management, accusing them of ruining his career.
They very well might have, as Blatche never made an impression with his new team, the Brooklyn Nets. After a two-year run on the team, Blatche signed with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association.
As of 2015, Blatche has re-signed with the Tigers on a three-year deal and has enjoyed greater playing time.
9 Martell Webster
Much like Sebastian Telfair, Martell Webster was a high draft pick of the Portland Trail Blazers after a great career in high school. The fifth-ranked player in the nation was taken with the sixth pick in the 2005 draft.
He never averaged more than 11 points per game before foot and back injuries prematurely ended his 2009 and 2010 seasons.
He signed with Washington in 2012 and set career-highs for minutes-per-game and three-point shooting percentage the following season. However, Webster underwent two more surgeries over the next two years, the latter of which caused him to miss the entire 2015-2016 season. The Wizards waived him in November 2015.
Webster’s NBA career may have been shortened by injuries, but the former first rounder is staying in the spotlight by embarking on a rap career. He performed at the South By Southwest Music Festival in March of 2016 and released his debut album “Emerald District” later that summer through an independent label based in Portland.
Webster is at peace with his new career path, telling Vice.com, “Once you're done with something, you move on to the next thing that excites you. That's what life is about.”
8 Travis Outlaw
I’m not sure what it is about the Portland Trail Blazers, but they clearly don’t have the best luck when drafting prep-to-pro players. Five-star recruit Travis Outlaw, taken by the Blazers with the 23rd overall pick in 2003, is another example.
The 6-foot-9 small forward out of Starkville High School in Mississippi averaged 8.6 points and 3.2 rebounds per game from 2003-2008.
After two seasons of underwhelming production, Outlaw was traded to the Clippers in 2010 as part of a package for Marcus Camby. He spent parts of the next four seasons with the Nets and Kings before an August 2014 trade to the Knicks. He never played a game in New York, though, as he was traded to Philadelphia just months later.
Outlaw was waived by the 76ers before the 2014-15 season and returned to his hometown of Starkville, MS.
Outlaw lived up to his name when he was indicted by a grand jury on felony marijuana possession charges in August 2016. The free agent forward was released from jail after posting a $10,000 bond. It is unknown whether, given his legal issues, Outlaw will ever return to the NBA.
7 Eddy Curry
Curry was another top-five pick taken straight from high school. The Chicago Bulls selected the 7-foot-1 forward out of Thornwood High School in Illinois with the fourth overall pick in 2001. The reigning “Illinois Mr. Basketball” Award Winner came into the league with high expectations.
In his second season in Chicago, Curry led the NBA in field goal percentage (58.5 percent) but was slowed by injuries and weight issues later in his career. He was traded to the Knicks in 2005, where he spent five serviceable, yet unforgettable seasons. He won the 2012 NBA championship as a member of the Miami Heat.
He played for the Dallas Mavericks during the 2012-13 season but was waived after two games. He spent one year in China playing for the Zhejiang Golden Bulls and has since returned to North America.
In a 2016 interview, Curry said his greatest regret was foregoing college for the NBA. “It would be super dope to have a college diploma,” he said.
Curry currently works as a motivational speaker, educating high school athletes across Illinois on how to avoid the pitfalls of early fame. He is also attempting a comeback with the Champions Basketball League, a newly-formed league for semi-pro players.
6 Korleone Young
Korleone Young was a highly sought-after recruit out of Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia in 1998. The 6-foot-7 forward instead declared for the draft that year, where the Detroit Pistons took him 40th overall. Young only played three games at the NBA level and averaged 4.3 points and 1.3 rebounds.
The Pistons severed ties with Young at the end of the 1998-99 season, and Young signed with the 76ers' summer league team. After failing to make the Philadelphia roster, Young spent the next two seasons playing for the now-defunct International Basketball Association (IBL) and the Continental Basketball Association (CBA). He also played overseas in Russia and China.
Young has since returned to Wichita, KS, where he originally began his high school basketball career. He detailed his battles with drug abuse and depression during and after his NBA career in a wide-ranging 2013 interview for Grantland.com.
A 2014 profile of Young details his mentorship of high school athletes in the Wichita area, where he teaches them how to handle the pressures of fame and the vices that come with it. He expressed a desire to enroll in Wichita Technical Institute that year, but it’s unknown whether he followed through on his commitment.
5 Robert Swift
Swift initially committed to the University of Southern California after a standout senior season at Bakersfield High School in California. However, he chose to forego his commitment after the Seattle SuperSonics selected him with the 12th overall pick in the first round of the 2004 NBA draft.
As we’ve seen with other players on this list, it seemed the fame was too much too soon for Swift. The 7-foot-1 center struggled through his first two seasons and was out of the NBA by 2009. He spent one year in the semi-pro National Athletic Basketball League (NABL) before playing one season in Japan.
To say retirement hasn’t been kind to Swift would be an understatement. In 2011, Swift was arrested for DUI, and in 2013, foreclosed on his house.
Swift was arrested in January 2015 for attempted armed robbery in Snohomish County, WA. He admitted to being addicted to heroin at the time of the arrest.
Swift was released from jail in September of 2015 after he accepted a plea bargain, and agreed to pay a $600 fine. He is currently living in California, is clean of drugs, and is playing basketball again in the Woo Pro-Am League. He hopes to get another shot in the D-League and figure out his path from there.
4 Leon Smith
Leon Smith’s NBA story is more of a warning than it is a disappointment. Personal issues stemming from parental neglect as a child plagued Smith during his brief career. These issues overshadowed the game of basketball.
The Spurs drafted Smith 29th overall out of Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Chicago, but immediately traded him to the Dallas Mavericks. Smith was placed in a psychiatric facility after throwing a rock through a car window, and ingesting 250 aspirin tablets. The Mavericks released Smith in February 2000 after further off-court troubles.
Smith signed with the Atlanta Hawks in 2002, but only played 14 games for the team before being waived, re-signed, waived again, then traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. He played one game for the Seattle SuperSonics in 2004 and didn’t play basketball again until a 2007 stint with Argentinian Basketball Club, Estudiantes de Bahia Blanca.
3 Sebastian Telfair
Telfair declared for the 2004 NBA draft after a standout career at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn. Telfair was the top high school boys basketball player that year and won “USA Mr. Basketball” honors.
Telfair was so confident in his talent that he chose to forego a scholarship offer to play for Rick Pitino at Louisville.
The Portland Trail Blazers selected the five-star recruit with the 13th overall pick in 2004. By the 2005-06 season, Telfair was running plays as the starting point guard for the team. However, his 9.5 points-per-game and 3.6 assists-per-game were considered mediocre for a starting point guard.
Telfair was eventually traded from Portland in 2008 and bounced between seven different teams before signing with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association in December 2014.
This year, the former first round pick seemed set to play in Serie A, the top basketball league in Italy. Auxilium CUS Torino was set on signing Telfair, but withdrew their offer after Telfair asked for an opt-out clause to play in China.
He hasn’t indicated any intentions of an NBA comeback.
2 Jonathan Bender
Bender, a hulking seven-foot, 200-pound power forward, was taken with the fifth overall pick in 1999 by the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors traded the Picayune Memorial High School graduate to the Indiana Pacers on draft day, and the young forward got off to a promising start.
Bender became the first prep-to-pro player to register a double-double in his NBA debut. After his early success in Indiana, Bender signed a four-year extension. That’s when the wheels came off of his NBA career. Bender suffered several injuries that limited him to a mere 78 games over the next four seasons.
The Pacers waived Bender in June of 2006 after he averaged 5.6 points in 237 games played. He signed with the Knicks in 2009 but retired after a fruitless 25-game run.
Since then, Bender has used his injury history in the NBA to his advantage. He invented the JB Intensive Trainer, a rehabilitative resistance training device designed to strengthen the knees and prevent joint pain. In 2016, Bender partnered with global online retailer, SoftwareProjects.com, to help market the device.
1 Kwame Brown
When Michael Jordan selects you with the number one overall pick, you know you have massive expectations to live up to.
Such was the case with Kwame Brown, who became the first high school draftee to be taken with the top pick when the Washington Wizards drafted him in 2001.
I’m not sure what MJ saw in Brown, but it never materialized at the NBA level. The young center struggled through an unremarkable rookie season, where he averaged 4.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. He peaked in his third season, averaging 10.9 points per game. However, Brown’s career never turned a corner, and his immaturity and mediocre play continued.
Brown’s constant feuding with teammates and head coach Eddie Jordan prompted the Wizards to trade him after the 2004-05 season. Brown played for six more teams over the next eight seasons, and never averaged more than 10 points-per-game.
Brown took a three-year absence from NBA action. In August 2016, he signed on with Interperformances, a basketball agency based in Europe. If Brown can’t secure a deal in the NBA, chances are he makes his professional comeback overseas.