LeBron James. Kobe Bryant. Kevin Garnett. Tracy McGrady. These are some of the greatest players that the NBA has ever seen, and they are also 4 players that made the jump directly from high school to the pros. This decision worked out fantastically for these players, and there is also a crop of talent that made the jump that have firmly established themselves in the league, this includes the likes of Dwight Howard, Amar’e Stoudemire, Josh Smith, Tyson Chandler, Rashard Lewis, Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins.
The jump from high school to the pros has not always worked out well, however. There have been a large number of players to skip college and consequently struggle massively in the NBA. This could come down to immaturity, not being prepared for the physical and mental aspect, inexperience in not being the go-to player, plus a whole host of other reasons. These players have learnt the hard way that the NBA is one of the toughest and most demanding leagues in the world.
In addition to players that have turned out to be busts, there are also some players that made the jump and had mixed fortunes. These players are usually highly talented, but often have disciplinary problems and make poor decisions. These are the type of players that leave teammates shaking their heads, coaches tearing their hair out and fans at home screaming at the television.
The college experience is a great way to prepare players for the pros and it helps to iron out any issues that a player may have. Here are 10 NBA players that should have gone to college.
10 Darius Miles
Darius Miles was a highly talented player and hugely entertaining to watch, but he is also one that had an attitude problem which often held him back and made him a coach’s nightmare. He has clashed with Mo Cheeks and violated the league’s substance abuse policy, and had he gone to college it is likely he would have matured and he also would have improved in a few areas of his game. The potential was there and he showed signs of promise, but ultimately Miles’ attitude held him back and stopped him from becoming a great player.
9 DeShawn Stevenson
Unlike a number of entries on this list, it does not seem that Stevenson’s game suffered as a result of going to the pros straight out of high school. He proved himself as a reliable scorer and defender, and he even played an important role in helping the Mavs to an NBA championship in 2011. Despite this, Stevenson has had a few legal issues which have plagued his career. Like so many players, it seems that earning such a large amount of money at such a young age has had a negative impact. Had he gone to college he would have been older and not so reckless by the time he was a professional athlete.
8 DeSagna Diop
2001 was a popular year for players to make the jump to the pros from high school, with the draft containing high school players Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, Ousmane Cisse and DeSagna Diop. Out of this crop of promising talent, it is only Tyson Chandler that has succeeded in the NBA. Diop showed promise at times in his career, but for someone that was the USA Today Virginia Player of the Year and a player that led the highly regarded Oak Hill Academy to an undefeated season, you would hope for a lot more than a back up center. He impressed defensively, but had Diop played any college ball he could have developed his game and made an impact on the league.
7 Stephen Jackson
Over his NBA career, Stephen Jackson has proven himself to be a deadly scorer and a valuable asset. He has a ring which he won with the Spurs in 2003, but he also has developed a reputation through a number of high profile incidents. This includes playing a large role in the alarming Malice in the Palace brawl, as well as firing a gun in a nightclub amongst a few other incidents. It is these off court issues which have held back Jackson and got him into trouble, and a college experience would have helped him to mature. He has a number of upsides and is highly talented, but this reputation has held him back over his career.
6 Robert Swift
Swift was a top prospect in school, and the 7’1 center was the 12 pick in the 2004 draft. He had committed to USC but opted to go pro from school instead, but he struggled to make an impact for the Sonics. This saw him play in the D league, but he soon quit and he would go on to play in Tokyo. College would have improved his overall game, but Swift also has a number of off-court and legal issues which have tainted his career. In a police raid on a home in which Swift was living, heroin, guns, a grenade launcher and prostitutes were all found and Swift was charged. Becoming a multimillionaire as a teenager led to this downfall, which is why it is fortunate the “One and Done” rule has been introduced where players must play at least one year in college.
5 J.R. Smith
Sure, J.R Smith may be a fantastic scorer and the 2013 6th Man of the Year, but he is also a coach’s nightmare. He takes low percentage shots, doesn’t pass and plays little defence, and he also has a notoriously bad attitude. This includes his involvement in the Knicks-Nuggets brawl, violating the anti-drug program, clubbing the night before a playoff game amongst a number of other issues. Had Smith gone to college, you feel he would have grown up, learnt how to play as part of a team, been forced to play defence and improved his overall game. Had he done this, he could have been an elite player in the NBA.
4 Eddy Curry
During his time in the NBA, Eddy Curry would occasionally prove himself to be a valuable asset and a real handful for the opposition. He is a skilled Big Man and even has an NBA ring (Heat 2011/12 season), but he never reached his potential and this is mainly due to his attitude and weight issues. Curry would regularly show up to training camp overweight and out of shape, and this had a negative impact on his relationship with the team as well as his game. The number 4 pick in the 2001 draft would have benefited from going to college, where he would have to have stayed in shape and would have improved his attitude.
3 Sebastian Telfair
Things have not quite gone to plan for Telfair, who was supposed to be one of the top point guards in the league following his choice to skip college and go straight to the pros. A New York City legend, Telfair’s journey in his final year of school was documented in Through the Fire, and this fascinating documentary gave us an insight into life for the young guard who is also Stephon Marbury’s cousin.
Telfair committed to the University of Louisville and Rick Pitino, but he then changed his mind and went pro. This is a shame, as Telfair was a top prospect but he struggled to adjust to NBA basketball. Had he played under Pitino, Telfair would have learnt a lot and could have gone on to be a great NBA point guard. He bounced around the league, but he is currently playing for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers after being waived by the Thunder in 2014.
2 Andrew Bynum
Bynum had the potential to be one of the great Big Men and showed promise in his career (who can forget his spin move and dunk on Shaq?), but aside from an impressive 2011/12 campaign he has disappointed. In addition to injuries, his attitude has massively held him back and this is most evident through his suspension by the Cavs. Bynum became a disruptive force on a troubled Cavs team, reportedly shooting every time he touched the ball, regardless of where he was on the court. He was subsequently traded to the Bulls, waived the very same day and then signed by the Pacers where he has been out injured since.
Bynum became the youngest player to play in an NBA game, but as it turns out this is not a good thing as he was in fact too young and would have benefited greatly from going to college.
1 Kwame Brown
Although he was the 1st pick in the 2001 NBA draft, Kwame Brown has become the butt of many jokes. He has been a perennial underachiever and failed to impress at every team he has played for, with his attitude also aggravating fans, teammates and coaches. He also suffered humiliation at the hands of Michael Jordan in Washington, which further damaged a teenage Brown’s confidence. Ultimately Brown was too young and underdeveloped, and the pressure of being 1st pick became too much. Had he gone to college, he would have developed the tools required to be a success in the NBA.
Kwame Brown epitomises the risk attached in jumping from high school to the pros, but the lure of the NBA and the money proved too much for these top high school prospects.