In the age of YouTube and social media, sometimes all it takes is one dunk to launch a young baller from obscurity to must-see entertainment. Everyone has a camera these days, so moments like these are rarely missed. Mixtape makers travel all across the country in a constant arms race to discover the most tantalizing prodigies and turn them into household names, sometimes before they can even legally drive. The demand for fresh content has created an unprecedented amount of interest in high school hoops. By the time a highly touted prospect reaches his senior year, he likely has at least a dozen mixtapes to his name, with the footage available to be scrutinized by fans and scouts alike. This is all to say that prep players are now better documented than at any other point in history, making the evaluation process that much easier.
However, these are still just kids. At the high school level, players are at such different stages of their developmental path that it can be very difficult to project how they’ll turn out in one, five, or ten years from now. Growth spurts happen, or suddenly stop, interest in the game wanes or gets inspired. The jump from high school to college is so dramatic that even some of the best high schoolers can lose their confidence once they step onto campus. For players who are used to being near the top of everyone’s lists, NCAA basketball can be a huge wakeup call, often exposing the kids who were just bigger and stronger than their peers in high school. With so many variables at play, it’s easy to see why scouts still regularly get rankings wrong, despite the wealth of information available to them. These are some of the worst of the best, high school studs who turned out to be college duds.
15 Andrew Harrison
Blessed with great size for the point guard position at 6’5”, Harrison’s path to stardom seemed solidified when he and his twin brother Aaron committed to Kentucky. The formula was simple, and tried and true: become one of the top guards in the nation, play a year of basketball under John Calipari, head to the NBA as a top-10 pick in the draft. Joining perhaps the greatest recruiting class in the history of college basketball, success seemed inevitable, but for once Calipari’s eyes may have been bigger than his stomach. He struggled to juggle playing time and egos on a team full of young stars. Previously downplayed reports of the Harrison twins’ attitude problems began to gain traction thanks to their selfish play and poor body language.
With so many questions to answer, they wisely decided to postpone their one-and-done plans and return for a second year. However, the Harrisons, particularly Andrew, failed to make any meaningful improvements, instead seeing their minutes and production reduced. Far from being the next John Wall, or even Tyreke Evans, Andrew would finish his two-year college career averaging 10.1 points and 3.8 assists on an atrocious .372 from the field.
14 Myck Kabongo
With lightning quick speed and tremendous unselfishness, Kabongo emerged as a top-10 prospect in the class of 2011. Kabongo followed in the footsteps of fellow Canadian stars Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph by attending Findlay Prep and then committing to play for Texas. Though he tried his best to also replicate the one-and-done success of his compatriots, Kabongo struggled to adjust to the physicality of the college game as evidenced by his poor shooting and turnover numbers.
Unfortunately things would only get worse, as he would come under investigation by the NCAA and miss the first 23 games of his sophomore season. He put up decent numbers in the handful of largely meaningless games he did play, and decided he had shown enough to turn himself back into an NBA prospect. Sadly he was wrong, going undrafted and not playing a single minute of NBA basketball to date.
13 David Padgett
Padgett, was a member of the 2003 draft class, which you might remember as the class of LeBron James. Less known is that it also produced several other notable NBA players including Chris Paul, whom Padgett was actually ranked ahead of by several scouting services. Despite his lofty ranking, Padgett would go on to have an exceptionally ordinary college career.
After a mediocre freshman season, he opted to transfer from Kansas to Louisville. He was rewarded with a bigger role after a mandatory redshirt season, notching career high averages in scoring (11.8) and rebounding (6.1). He never really progressed from there however, content to continue putting up pedestrian numbers until his eligibility ran out. Padgett would go undrafted and never played in the league, while his classmates from his high school glory days were winning championships and MVP trophies.
12 Jason Fraser
Fraser was ranked as the second best center in the class of 2002, just behind future All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire. Unlike Stoudemire, Fraser decided against jumping straight to the pros and instead committed to NCAA basketball powerhouse Villanova. The decision may have wound up costing him millions of dollars. While his classmates Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh were taking college basketball by storm as freshmen, Fraser was forced to endure double knee surgery.
Things only got worse from there, with Fraser undergoing a total of seven surgeries on his knees and wrist over the course of his college career. Robbed of his trademark elite quickness, his play gradually degenerated, going from 7.1 points per game as a freshman to just 3.5 his senior year.
11 Renardo Sidney
One of the most notorious cautionary tales in recent memory, Sidney is this generation’s Lenny Cooke, a supremely talented basketball prodigy who wasn’t able to handle so much so soon. At 6’10” and over 250 pounds, Sidney was an unstoppable force in high school, relying not just on his size but a remarkable skill level for someone his size. Unfortunately, red flags began to appear even before he set foot on Mississippi State’s campus. Allegations of amateurism violations led to an NCAA investigation and suspension which lasted an entire season plus nine more games for good measure. Once he actually started playing, the results were mixed at best.
The talent was evident in his 14.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, but attitude issues led to two further suspensions and his weight, which had ballooned to over 300 pounds, hindered his ability to be effective. These issues continued to plague him for his second and final year of college basketball, which would see his numbers decrease across the board before leaving to rehabilitate his stock as a pro. He’s still waiting for that NBA call, which at this point is unlikely to ever come.
10 Adonis Thomas
The aptly named Adonis Thomas was a physical specimen even as a high schooler, a chiselled 200 pounds and standing 6’6” with a 7’0” wingspan, perfect dimensions for a wing player. Scouts loved his energy and defensive versatility, and it wasn’t long before he had schools from all across the country knocking at his door. Despite the national attention, the Memphis born and raised Thomas decided to keep things local by committing to the University of Memphis. Unfortunately he missed nearly half the season with an ankle injury, undermining any chance he might have had to go one-and-done. Year two should have been his coming out party, but instead Thomas struggled with his shot on his way to a tepid 11.7 points per game. Perhaps anxious to not let his stock drop any further, Thomas somewhat surprisingly declared for the draft after playing just one and a half seasons of college basketball. Unsurprisingly, he went undrafted and to date has played in just six NBA games.
9 Cliff Alexander
A bruising and bouncy power forward, Alexander was viewed by many as one of if not the best prospect in the country in 2014. He and fellow top-three big man Jahlil Okafor battled for bragging rights in basketball crazed Chicago. Kansas fans were elated when he and Kelly Oubre committed to the Jayhawks, as they were the perfect pair to step in and fill the shoes of outgoing freshmen studs Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan. Alexander was unable to gain the full confidence of the coaching staff early in the season, and did not see the kind of minutes one would expect from a top recruit. Then, just as he was beginning to consistently enter the starting five, the NCAA dropped the hammer.
An investigation into possible amateurism violations effectively ended Alexander’s season in February, robbing him of the chance to boost his stock in the NCAA tournament. Facing an uncertain future in college athletics, Alexander declared for the draft but was not selected.
8 Kasey Hill
What Hill lacked in size, he more than made up for in speed and athleticism. The 6’1” pint-sized dynamo attended the elite Montverde Academy in Florida, his home state, which gave him the opportunity to showcase his skills nationally and finish his high school career with a top-10 ranking. Keeping things close to home, he committed to the University of Florida where he was expected to make an immediate impact. However, Hill seemed to have trouble adjusting to bigger, more physical college defenders, and worst of all, he seemed to completely forget how to shoot. Hill shot just .407 from the field and .663 from the free throw line as a freshman—and those turned out to be career highs. Though he carved out a reputation as a pesky defender, he never again displayed the explosive scoring ability he had shown in high school throughout his four year college career, which ended this past season.
7 Chris Walker
Along with the aforementioned Kasey Hill, the freakishly athletic Walker also committed to his home state University of Florida, forming one of the best recruiting hauls for the school in recent memory—at least on paper. With length and bounce for days, Walker was seen as a raw talent with almost limitless potential. His pairing with Hill should have formed a dynamic home state duo, but things did not go according to plan. As is all too often the case, Walker was suspended for much of his freshman season due to concerns about his eligibility. He may as well have missed the entire season, since he averaged less than five minutes per game when he was cleared to play.
Disappointingly, year two wasn’t much better, with Walker managing just 4.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in limited minutes. Two years later, he’s still waiting for his shot at the NBA.
6 Donnell Harvey
Another Florida Gator makes the cut, though unlike just about everyone else on this list Harvey actually enjoyed a modicum of success post-university. However, his lofty high school ranking should have surely led to greater things for the 6’8” forward. He was in fact widely regarded as the top recruit in the country, a title that comes with high expectations. While he had a pretty good year for a freshman, averaging 10.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per contest and helping Florida to the national title game, he was outshined by other first year players like DerMarr Johnson and Jamal Crawford.
Had he stayed in school, which was still fairly common for top prospects at the time, he might have been able to boost his stock significantly, but Harvey instead tried to cash in early by declaring for the draft after one year. He ended up going far lower (22) than his high school pedigree would have suggested, but at least he got a five year NBA career out of it.
5 Josh Selby
When it comes to the worst one-and-done seasons of all time, it’s pretty hard to do much worse than Selby’s lone season at Kansas. A scoring machine in high school, was considered one of the best guards of 2010, neck-and-neck with current NBA players Kyrie Irving and Brandon Knight. However, things got off to a rocky start at Kansas when Selby was suspended for the first nine games due to receiving what the NCAA deemed improper benefits. An injury later in the season didn’t help matters, and when all was said and done, the one-time elite scorer had managed to put up just 7.9 points per game on an anemic .373 shooting from the field in his lone college season. Instead of returning to school to repair his declining reputation, Selby decided to make the leap to the NBA – and fall flat on his face. He was drafted in the second round, but has only appeared in 38 games, zero since 2013.
4 Byron Mullins
A top-ranked high school center with elite size, athleticism, and soft hands who committed to Ohio State University. Sound familiar? No, we’re not talking about Greg Oden. A year after Oden led the Buckeyes to the national championship game, Mullins had gained a reputation for himself as a hugely gifted high schooler with a questionable motor. Ohio State bet on the former winning out on the latter once he arrived on campus, but the red flags concerning his focus and intensity proved to be well founded.
Mullens’ freshman season averages of 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds were okay, but for a player formerly ranked number one in the nation by some recruiting services, they look pretty underwhelming. He didn’t get a chance to redeem himself and live up to the hype either, leaving college for the NBA after just one season.
3 Cheick Diallo
Diallo is honestly one of the more head-scratching names on this list. By all accounts an extremely hard worker who could make an immediate impact on the defensive end thanks to his length, athleticism, and hustle, he seemed like a perfect fit for Kansas as the pièce de résistance of their 2015 recruiting class. Unfortunately, the NCAA claimed yet another victim by investigating Diallo’s eligibility, causing him to miss the team’s first five contests. The former top-five recruit didn’t fare much better once he was allowed to play, playing a measly 7.5 minutes per game – and sometimes not at all.
With Kansas’ elite frontcourt depth, coach Bill Self may simply have not felt the need to find minutes for a player who was already behind schedule. Despite the extremely limited exposure he got during his time in Lawrence, Diallo decided it was his time to head to the NBA, where he has one season under his belt with the New Orleans Pelicans.
2 Harry Giles
Fame came early for Giles, who was pegged as a future star almost as soon as he started high school. The power forward’s combination of size, length, agility, and basketball IQ were light years ahead of his classmates, but some ominous signs began to appear. A knee injury forced Giles to miss his entire sophomore year, though he came back strong the following year to reclaim his throne. However, the waters of Giles’ future really started to get murky when he suffered another season-ending knee injury at the worst possible time, right at the start of his senior season.
He still maintained his top-two ranking and Duke scholarship heading into the college season, but never seemed to fully recover, looking lost and a step slower than he had when healthy. He finished the season averaging just 3.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game before leaving for the NBA, where it remains to be seen if he ever regains his previously stellar form.
1 Skal Labissiere
There’s just something about international seven-footers that adds an extra layer of excitement to a prospect. The young Haitian big man saw his stock skyrocket during his senior year, going from virtual unknown to fighting Ben Simmons for top player in the nation. After committing to perennial powerhouse Kentucky, Labissiere seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of previous Wildcat bigs Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns, who leveraged successful freshman seasons into number one overall selections and NBA stardom. However, it became clear early on in his college career that there would be an adjustment period. Labissiere’s lack of strength and toughness were exposed by the more physically mature level of competition, and frequent foul trouble kept him glued to the bench.
Determined to be one-and-done, he declared for the draft after his freshman year, but his disappointing 6.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game saw him drop from the number one overall spot to almost out of the first round at 28. His solid rookie season leaves room for optimism going forward, but there’s no question his brief time in college was an epic failure.