Most people would probably agree that football has the most talked about scouting in terms of sports in the United States, but basketball is a close second. College basketball games of all levels can be watched live over the internet and even high school basketball is followed by national sports networks. This has made a lot of potential NBA players celebrities before they even get paid and they are more recognizable compared to football thanks to the lack of helmets.
It seems that every year since 2003, there has been a high school or college prospect that has been dubbed as “The next LeBron James” or “The next Michael Jordan.” So far, LeBron James has really been the only player to be the next Jordan, but we still like to hype up prospects to the moon. While some have still gone on to become NBA stars, there have been plenty that either flopped or didn’t live up to expectations.
For every LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony or Shaquille O’Neal, there are a handful of professional hopefuls that just never work out. Let’s take a trip down memory lane, bust out the street ball mixtapes and awful early days of YouTube highlights as we remember the top 20 NBA prospects we all thought would be stars...but weren’t.
20 Juan Dixon
Juan Dixon wasn’t the highest rated high school player by any means, but he really made a name for himself when he got to the University of Maryland to play for coach Gary Williams. Dixon would get immediate playing time and then became one of the (if not the) best players in Maryland history. By his senior year, Dixon was scoring more than 20 points per game while hauling in 4.6 rebounds per game en route to a national championship where he was named most outstanding player in the tournament.
Dixon was then drafted 17th overall by the Wizards in 2002, meaning the local fanbase had some high expectations. While Dixon showed some potential, he wouldn’t find his stride in Washington. He would end up having one decent season in Portland, but was mainly a journeyman role player that finished with a career 8.4 points per game.
19 T.J. Ford
Unlike Juan Dixon, T.J. Ford was considered a great basketball player in high school and was recruited by just about every college. Ford was hyped before even getting to Texas, where he led the nation in assists in his freshman season. Since Ford carried the Longhorns to their first Final Four appearance, there were a lot of people that thought he could do the same in the NBA.
Ford left Texas after his sophomore season and he would end up getting drafted eighth overall in 2003 by Milwaukee. The only accolade that Ford received in the NBA was being a part of the second team All-Rookie squad, which happens to any rookie that gets playing time. Ford played eight seasons in the NBA, but didn’t make an impact as he scored 11.2 points per game and dished out 5.8 assists per game. Decent, but not what was expected.
18 Tyrus Thomas
Tyrus Thomas was an athletic freak that didn’t even play basketball until he was already in his junior year of high school. Thomas grew like a weed and committed to LSU, where he would quickly develop from a raw talent into a fantastic player that won the SEC Freshman of the Year award. It was Thomas’s only collegiate season as he was considered to be immediately ready for the NBA as LSU made the Final Four.
Thomas was the fourth overall pick by Portland in 2006 and was sent to the Bulls in the LaMarcus Aldridge deal. Thomas had limited time in his first season and it wasn’t until his third year that he started to blossom a bit, scoring 10.8 points with 6.4 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, Thomas would hit his peak there and he finished his career after 2015 with a career of 7.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
17 Marvin Williams
Marvin Williams was a blue chip recruit as an All-American from Washington in the 2003-04 season. Williams would commit to North Carolina and was part of a super team that would win the 2005 National Championship. Despite being the team’s top option off of the bench, Williams was considered to be a great NBA prospect that could be plugged into a roster right away.
The sixth man in North Carolina became the second pick in the 2005 NBA Draft by Atlanta, one of four Tar Heels to be drafted early. It looked like Williams was on his way to stardom in his third season when he scored 14.8 points with 5.7 rebounds per game, but his decline was sharp and he didn’t have the success that you would suspect from a second overall pick. Williams is still playing in the NBA with the Hornets, but he has career numbers of just 10.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
16 Shaun Livingston
Shaun Livingston, like Marvin Williams, is another player that’s still in the NBA but never reached their full potential. Livingston was Mr. Basketball in Illinois in 2004, which is no easy task and has been given to players such as Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Derrick Rose and Kevin Garnett. Livingston never really did join those ranks despite being the top high school player in the country, as he skipped out on a Duke scholarship to head to the NBA.
Livingston was was the fourth pick in 2004 and he still hasn’t put together a season that you would expect from someone selected in that slot, mostly due to serious knee injuries. Livingston has been a role player, whose career high in points was just 9.3 and coming in 2006-07. Livingston has a career mark of 6.7 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.4 points per game.
15 Anthony Bennett
You could make the argument that Anthony Bennett has been the worst player to ever be selected first overall, but there was a time when he was considered a great prospect just a few years ago. Bennett moved from Canada to Las Vegas, where he was the top forward in the national while at Findlay Prep. Bennett would stay in Vegas to play at UNLV, leaving after his freshman season.
While Bennett was a surprise pick at number one overall in 2013, he was still considered to be a great NBA prospect that would be able to get over a shoulder surgery and become a star for the Cavaliers. Instead, he flamed out in his rookie season and was sent to Minnesota as part of the Kevin Love trade. Bennett has scored just 4.2 points and 3.1 rebounds per game in his NBA career and the future doesn’t look bright at all.
14 Emeka Okafor
There are a couple of big men from UConn that make their way to the list and the first one is Emeka Okafor. Okafor didn’t get a lot of looks while in high school in Houston, but he earned his spot on the Huskies and became a standout both on and off the court. Okafor was a block machine that would help the Huskies win the 2004 National Championship, and he was the tournament’s MVP.
Okafor was the second pick in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Bobcats and his rookie season gave fans hope that he would be the best center in the league. Okafor would decline slightly in scoring over the next few years, and then took a sharp decline and was out of the league after the 2012-13 season. Okafor was a solid player in his career, but people were expecting a Hall of Fame career that didn’t happen.
13 Stromile Swift
There are plenty of second overall picks that have been disappointing and Stromile Swift was a much bigger disappointment than Okafor. Swift was part of the LSU Tigers team that went to the Sweet 16 in 2000 and NBA scouts were drooling over the fact that he was going to be available after Kenyon Martin at the top spot. The Grizzlies were the ones to land Swift and he would be a bench player for most of his rookie season.
We’d see some potential in the second season from Swift after the Grizzlies moved to Memphis, but it turned out that it was just a fluke season. Swift fell off of a table in 2005, as his numbers plummeted and he became a journeyman that was barely getting any playing time. Swift ended his career with 8.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
12 Adam Morrison
If you ask people who the best college basketball player they’ve seen in the last 10 years was, there’s a good chance that you’d have more than a handful of people tell you that it was Adam Morrison out of Gonzaga. Morrison wasn’t highly rated out of high school, but proved his worth with the Zags as he helped the team get to the tournament where they were a high seed in 2006.
Morrison skipped his final season to play in the NBA and was selected third overall by the Bobcats right after LaMarcus Aldridge. Michael Jordan was high on Morrison, but his second season came with a torn ACL that he would never rebound from. Perhaps Morrison would have been a solid NBA talent, but we’d never find out. In four seasons, Morrison scored 7.5 points per game with 2.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists.
11 Shelden Williams
Playing for Duke automatically brings a lot of NBA hype with it, especially when you were ranked in the top five overall and the top forward in high school by some sources. Shelden Williams did that, and he would rack up awards left and right while with the Blue Devils, where he was an All-American that won two Defensive Player of the Year Awards. The Hawks would make Williams the fifth pick in 2006’s NBA Draft and he had his best season in his rookie campaign with 5.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
Yes, that is where he topped out. Williams went three seasons without a single start and peaked at 22 minutes per game in his final NBA season in 2011-12 with New Jersey. Williams would then play overseas and is currently a free agent. At the end of the day, though, Williams did end up getting married to Candace Parker, so count that as a win for the former Duke Blue Devil.
10 O.J. Mayo
O.J. Mayo was a living legend by the time he was in seventh grade. Mayo was dominating varsity teams at that time (which is allowed in Kentucky) and was an All-State player by eighth grade. Mayo then became Mr. Basketball in Ohio after transferring across the river and was one of the most highly watched prospects in history. Teams were lining up with offers and Mayo would head west to USC.
In his one season, Mayo didn’t help the Trojans to a title like some thought he would, but still put up good numbers. The Grizzlies then selected him third overall in 2008 and his rookie campaign of 18.5 points per game offered hope that he would be a star. His numbers would decline quickly and he was no longer a starter by year four. Mayo recently played with Milwaukee, but was kicked out the league due to a drug violation, after having averaged 13.8 points per game for his career.
9 Kwame Brown
Not only was Kwame Brown considered the best high school player in the nation during the 2000-01 season, he was considered to be one of the best all-time. Brown was going to attend the University of Florida, but the Wizards showed that they wanted to draft him with the first overall pick in 2001, so he told the Gators that he was going pro. Expectations were through the roof, but they were never met by Brown.
Brown got off to an incredibly slow start with 4.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. His third season wasn’t bad with 10.9 points and 7.4 rebounds, but that was the only highlight of his career. Brown somehow managed to stay in the league for more than a decade and finished with replacement level numbers with 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
8 Darko Milicic
These days, people are always a little skeptical of foreign players that come straight to the NBA and the reason is our number eight player, Darko Milicic. Milicic is a seven foot Serbian that was selected during the famous 2003 NBA Draft. LeBron James was the consensus number one overall pick (duh) that year, but who would go number two was anybody’s guess. The Pistons decided on Milicic and it was immediately shown to be the wrong choice.
Milicic played in the NBA for a decade, but he would only score 6.0 points per game with 4.2 rebounds to go along with it. The Pistons could have had their choice of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade or even Chris Kaman. Instead, they went with the Serbian, but still won the next year’s NBA Finals.
7 Hasheem Thabeet
We told you that there was another big man from UConn on the list and Hasheem Thabeet was more hyped than Emeka Okafor, and way more disappointing...way more. Thabeet was blocking shots all over the place with the Huskies and was able to become the Big East Defensive Player of the Year thanks to a season of more than 150 blocks.
Thabeet got the Huskies to the Final Four in 2009, though North Carolina would win the title. Still, Thabeet had a very bright future where he was drafted second overall by the Grizzlies. Thabeet had 3.1 points with 3.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in his rookie season, but those would all be career highs. Thabeet ended his career after the 2013-14 season with a total of 2.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.
6 Eddy Curry
Shaun Livingston wasn’t the only Mr. Basketball in Illinois, as Eddy Curry is another one that joins the ranks (and he’s not even the last one). Curry won that title in 2001 out of Thornwood High School and was considered one of the best players in Illinois high school history. Curry was going to stay in the state to attend college at DePaul, but instead opted to the play in the NBA.
Curry would end up staying in Illinois anyway as the Bulls selected him fourth overall in 2001, as the hype was electric. Curry put up some solid scoring numbers, but that was about it. Curry peaked with 19.5 points per game as a member of the Knicks in 2006-07, and then was plagued by injuries and never became the legend that many thought he would. While he would finish with a career 12.9 points per game, he never dished the ball and was hauling in just 5.2 rebounds per game despite his size.
5 Jonathan Bender
Jonathan Bender turned a lot of heads coming out of Picayune Memorial High School in Mississippi at the McDonald’s All-American Game in 1999. Bender would win the MVP Award, looking dominant and thoughts of becoming a great college player quickly turned to professional dreams. Bender was a raw talent that was selected fifth in 1999 by the Raptors, but then traded to the Pacers.
Bender would only play in 60 or more games once in his eight NBA seasons, seven with Indiana and one with the Knicks. Bender would never score more than 7.4 points per game, and his career finished with 5.5 points and 2.2 rebounds per game. Bender started just 28 games, as knee injuries never let him reach his full potential.
4 Darius Miles
Darius Miles was the top high school player in the nation back in the 1999-2000 season while in East St. Louis, Illinois. The hype around Miles was insane, as nobody before had ever been drafted as high as third in the NBA Draft after coming directly out of high school. The Clippers were willing to take that chance as Miles landed in Los Angeles and he became a first team All-Rookie player.
Miles was starting to gain stardom off the court as he appeared in movies like The Perfect Score and Van Wilder. However, it wouldn’t translate to superstardom on the court despite improving on his scoring throughout his career. Miles would end up getting a microfracture on his knee that caused him to miss two years. Miles would return for 34 more games, but retired after 2009. Miles would finish with 10.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
3 Lenny Cooke
Those that are around 25 years old or younger probably don’t even remember Lenny Cooke, who was supposed to be “the next big thing.” Cooke was playing against future NBA stars like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in high school and he was considered to be the top prep player in the nation before the hype around LeBron went to new highs.
Cooke’s career was derailed by James outplaying him in high school, but he still had a lot of NBA potential. All of the biggest college basketball programs were offering scholarships to Cooke, but he never made it to college thanks to some eligibility issues that were surrounding him. That scared NBA teams off in 2002, as all of them decided not to draft Cooke. Cooke became a viral street ball star that would get some looks, but never played in the NBA despite a career that people thought was going to be great.
2 Sebastian Telfair
The early to mid 2000s was really the golden age for viral high school basketball recruits and Sebastian Telfair was one that received more hype than just about anybody since the new millennium started. Telfair was a blue chip prospect out of Brooklyn, New York and had committed to play at Louisville. He would end up heading straight to the NBA Draft out of high school, getting selected 13th overall in 2004.
Portland was planning to be patient while he developed, but he struggled in his first two seasons. Off the court issues only added to it and Telfair was dealt to the Celtics in 2006. Despite playing in the NBA for 12 seasons, Telfair never had a season where he scored double digits on average. He would finish after 2014-15 in Oklahoma City with a career 7.4 points and 3.5 assists per game.
1 Greg Oden
We have finally reached the pinnacle of disappointment and it’s in the form of a 7’0” former legend that ran into a laundry list of injury problems. Greg Oden won the illustrious Indiana Mr. Basketball title in 2006 and also the national player of the year, committing to Ohio State and helping the Buckeyes reach the Final Four. Oden played just that one season in Columbus and he was the consensus top player in the 2007 NBA Draft, and the Portland Trail Blazers made him the top pick.
Oden would unfortunately get injured over and over again, as he only played in 105 career NBA games. During that time, Oden would score 8.0 points while pulling in 6.2 rebounds and blocking 1.2 shots per game. Oden still nearly won an NBA title with the Miami Heat in the 2013-14 season, but unfortunately came up short of what would have at least been a nice parting gift.