In 2005, the NBA set an age limit for players that were eligible for the NBA draft. The affective age from that point on would be nineteen-years of age and it may be twenty-years of age very soon. However, over the course of ABA and NBA history, it has seen over forty players who have skipped the ranks of college and were drafted right out of high school.
Some of these players were very successful; but most were not, and probably should have attended college. In fact, there are probably more players that were not successful in the NBA than players that were successful in the NBA. We all know about the Kobe Bryant’s, Kevin Garnett’s, Tracy McGrady’s, and the LeBron James’s, but what about the stories that we rarely hear about?
For example, Lenny Cooke and DeAngelo Collins entered the 2002 Draft out of High School and were never even drafted. As a result, they were ineligible to even play NCAA basketball. Their names are now forgotten.
There are so many high school players that have been given poor advice and prematurely jumped into the NBA when they were not ready for the physicality of the game or the extravagant lifestyle. The allure of money is a fair reason for anyone to enter the draft, but most of these players cost themselves even more money by never fully developing into the players that they could have been. These are the players that were labeled as filled with potential their entire lives, but never had it fully realized.
This is a list of the Top 10 players that were stars in high school, but were total busts in the NBA.
7 Ndudi Ebi – 26th Pick in 2003
The 6’9” forward from Nigeria possessed tremendous amounts of athleticism that was first round worthy, despite his overall raw talent. However, Ndudi Ebi only played in 19 games over two seasons and that was pretty much the story of his brief NBA career. During Ebi’s rookie year he averaged 0.8 points per game and 0.2 rebounds per game.
6 Leon Smith – 29th Pick in 1999
Leon Smith played in only fourteen games his rookie year where he averaged 2.2 points per game and 2.2 rebounds per game. Due to personal problems Smith struggled off the court, which posed challenges for him to thrive on the court. So, by Smith's second year in the league, he was already out of the NBA. Smith did try to make a comeback during his third year, but only played in one game where he played four minutes.
8. Shaun Livingston – 4th Pick in 2004
Shaun Livingston has revitalized his career this year with the Brooklyn Nets and has made himself a valuable commodity once again. However, when the 6’7” point guard was drafted out of high school he was labeled as the next Magic Johnson and Anfernee Hardaway. He was tall, had handles and decent vision.
However, in 2007, Livingston suffered from a terrible knee injury that forced him out of the league for nearly two years. Even after he returned, Livingston only played in a handful of games. Still fighting to stay in the league, Livingston’s career averages are 6.8 points per game and 3.4 assists per game.
7. DeSagana Diop – 8th Pick in 2001
DeSagana Diop attended the prestigious Oak Hill Academy in Virginia where he played high school ball. The big man from Senegal was a legitimate seven footer with very long arms and could protect the paint.
Diop was never an offensive player. He averaged only 2 points per game his entire career, but he was able to carve out a defensive niche in the NBA that allowed him to play for over 14 years in the NBA. Still, he was never the defensive presence that general managers hoped that he would be coming out of Oak Hill.
6. Jonathan Bender – 5th Pick in 1999
From a physical perspective, Jonathan Bender was supposed to be the original Kevin Durant. Bender was nearly seven feet tall and could shoot from anywhere on the court. Furthermore, he was lanky and athletic, which allowed him to play anything from shooting guard to power forward. Bender was as versatile as it got.
Unfortunately, injuries derailed Bender his entire career. His rookie year, Bender only played in 24 games where he averaged 2.7 points per game. In fact knee injuries limited Bender to 46, 21, 7, and 2 games in four different seasons in the NBA. By his seventh season in the NBA, Bender was already on his way out. Bender did have one good year and that was his third year, where he was able to earn a four-year contract for $28.5 million. Over his career, Bender averaged 5.5 points per game and 2.2 rebounds per game.
5 Sebastian Telfair – 13th Pick in 2004 Draft
To Sebastian Telfair’s credit, he stayed in the NBA until 2013 as he now plays in China, but he is hardly the player that we foresaw him being when he was in high school. As the cousin of Stephon Marbury and the darling of Lincoln High School in Coney Island, there was a lot of hype surrounding Telfair from a very young age. In fact, Adidas even offered Telfair a contract right out of high school on a six-year deal which was worth more than $15 million.
Telfair has never cemented himself as the starting point guard on any team in the NBA and has largely been regulated as a second or third string point guard for every team that he has been on. Telfair’s career averages are 7.4 points per game, 3.5 assists per game, and 1.6 rebounds per game.
4 Robert Swift – 12th Pick in 2004 Draft
The big man from Bakersfield, California was always labeled a project, but Robert Swift had something that you could not teach – size. Swift was a legitimate 7’1” and somewhat coordinated. However, Swift was a boy in a man’s body and not ready for the NBA. During his rookie year, Swift only played in 16 games and averaged less than one point per game. Throughout his career, Swift bounced in and out of the league and was finally off all NBA rosters just four years after his rookie year. With the number twelve pick, one after Sebastian Telfair, Swift’s career averages were only 4.3 points per game and 3.9 rebounds per game.
3 Eddy Curry – 4th Pick in 2001
2 Darius Miles – 3rd Pick in 2000 Draft
Despite, his inability to shoot the ball, Miles had long arms and freak athleticism that was great for a run and gun system. So, Miles had a fairly good rookie season, but eventually injuries slowed Miles down on the court. After eight seasons in the NBA, Miles averaged 10.1 points per game and 4.9 rebounds per game as the number 3 pick in the draft.
1 Kwame Brown – 1st Pick in 2001
Kwame Brown was the first player ever to be taken with the number one pick out of high school, and it has haunted and crippled Michael Jordan’s post-game career ever since. During Brown’s rookie year, he averaged 4.5 points per game and 3.5 rebounds per game over 57 games. Unfortunately, his career numbers are not much better than that. Brown finished his career by playing for seven different teams over the course of 13 years where he averaged 6.6 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game.
Brown has been booed by nearly every home team that he has played for and was never able to live up to the title of being the number one pick. Had Brown actually went to college for even a year, you have to wonder what kind of NBA player he would have developed into.