Nowadays, the NBA requires its rookies attend at least a year of college before going pro. Many of the top High School players in the country bide their time over that year, just itching for the chance to “graduate” and start making their millions
But for a long time, there was no such requirement. An elite High School player could get his diploma one day, and be drafted by the Lakers the next. Here are ten of the best players who were literally too cool for school.
10. Andrew Bynum
Andrew Bynum grew up in New Jersey, where he played basketball at a couple of different high schools. He was chosen to participate in the McDonalds All-American game, and finished his high school career averaging 20 points a game. He originally planned to attend the University of Connecticut, and major in business. However, he changed his mind and, in 2005, was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers. At 17, he soon became the youngest player in NBA history. He won two consecutive NBA titles with the Lakers and became an All-Star as a Laker in 2012. He is currently still sitting out with injuries (2013).
9. Jermaine O’ Neal
Jermaine O’ Neal grew up in South Carolina, where he and his brother were raised solely by his mother. She worked two jobs to support them, and Jermaine’s official website claims that he learned the importance of persistence and hard work from her. Although he began his high school career as a guard on the junior varsity team, the NBA player he most wished to emulate was legendary center Bill Russell. He eventually grew quite a bit, and switched to playing post.
Although colleges recruited him heavily, he decided instead to declare his eligibility for the NBA Draft. In 1996, he was picked up by the Portland Trail Blazers. During his four years there, he primarily played as a backup, because the team was stacked with big veteran players such as Rasheed Wallace. He was eventually traded to the Indiana Pacers, where he had his breakthrough season. While playing for the Pacers, he became a six-time All-Star, and played in the Olympics for Team USA.
8. Amar’e Stoudemire
Amar’e Stoudemire grew up in Florida. He also had a rough childhood. His father died at a young age, and his mother was in and out of prison. Because of this, he was forced to attend six different high schools. He did not even begin playing basketball until he was 14, and only played for two years in high school. Despite this, he quickly became a top prospect, and was offered an athletic scholarship to the University of Memphis. He decided to instead jump straight to the pros, and was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 2002. He excelled from the beginning, averaging 13.5 points per game his first year, and winning the Rookie of the Year award. Since then, he has been selected to the All-Star team six times. He was traded to the New York Knicks in 2010, where he has been doing well, though he has recently been plagued by injuries.
7. Tracy McGrady
Tracy McGrady grew up in Florida, where he was a two-sport athlete. In fact, he originally aspired to play baseball, rather than basketball. However, after an amazing performance at a High School All-Star basketball game, he received a scholarship to go to Mount Zion Christian Academy in Durham, North Carolina. While there, he lead his team to a 20-1 record, a #2 nationwide ranking, and was named USA Today’s “Player Of The Year.”
He planned originally on committing to the University of Kentucky, but ultimately decided to take an offer from the NBA instead. He was drafted by the Toronto Raptors in 1997, where he played alongside his famous cousin Vince Carter. After three years in Canada, he was traded to the Orlando Magic. He spent several years in the NBA, his most successful playing for the Houston Rockets. In 2012, Tracy decided to leave the US again, this time to play in China for the Qingdao Eagles.
6. Darryl Dawkins
Darryl Dawkins played high school basketball at Maynard Evans High School in Orlando. A dominate force in high school, he led his team to a state championship in 1975. He then became the first high school player to be picked in the first round of the NBA Draft. He played seven years for the Philadelphia 76’ers, going to the NBA Finals three times, but never winning. He became most well known for shattering two backboards while dunking, and for the creative nicknames he gave both himself and his signature dunks.
5. Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard played for Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy in High School, leading the team to a state championship his senior year. His favorite player growing up was Michael Jordan, but he knew that he wasn’t suited to play like Mike. He decided to find a big man to emulate his game after, and he found it in Kevin Garnett.
He had a dominating Senior year, that lead to interest from college and NBA scouts. In his last year of High School, he averaged 25 points, 18 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 8 blocks per game. Three different organizations named him Player Of The Year, and he was selected first overall in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic. As one of the most athletic big players in the league today, he has been named an All-Star six times, Defensive Player Of The Year three times, and won the NBA Dunk Contest in 2008.
4. Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett was not only Howard’s inspiration for playing style; he also inspired him to jump straight to the pros. Garnett grew up in South Carolina, where he and his two sisters were raised primarily by his mother. Oddly enough, his stepfather hated basketball, so we can’t assume he was very supportive.
As a Junior, he led his team to the state championship, and averaged an incredible 28.5 points per game. Details are unclear but, the summer before his senior year, Garnett was implicated in a charge of second-degree public lynching. This caused him to decide to transfer to a prep school in Chicago. He led the team to a city title, and was named by USA Today as the High School Player Of The Year. He was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1995, where he played for twelve years, and still holds several of their team records. He was traded to the Boston Celtics in 2007, and helped them win the 2008 NBA Title, their first championship since 1986. He has been named an All Star fourteen times in his career.
3. Moses Malone
Moses Malone played High School basketball at Petersburg High School in Virginia. While there, he led the team to an unbelievable 50-game win streak, and two straight state titles. He initially agreed to play for the University of Maryland, but changed his mind, and instead played his rookie year in the American Basketball Association. After two years in the ABA, the league merged with the NBA, and he was traded to the Houston Rockets. Over a 21-year career, with several different teams, he won one NBA Championship, was named League MVP three times, and was picked as an All Star twelve times. The seventh leading scorer in NBA history, he was named one of the 50 greatest players ever, selected through a vote organized by the NBA.
2. Lebron James
Lebron James grew up in Ohio, primarily raised by his mother. His step-dad was in and out of jail, but James claims he formed a bond with him regardless. Lebron went to St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron. An impressive player from the beginning, he was the first sophomore player ever chosen to the USA Today All-USA First Team. In just his Junior year, he appeared on the cover of several sports magazines. In his senior year, he averaged 31.6 points per game, and was named the most valuable player of the Jordan Capital Classic, the EA Sports Roundball Classic, and the McDonald’s All-American Game.
By participating in those three games, he forfeited his NCAA eligibility, not that it really mattered. He was selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003. He averaged over 20 points his rookie year, and was named Rookie Of The Year. In 2010, he took his talents to South Beach and the Miami Heat. Over his still-young career, he has been named NBA MVP three times, selected as an All Star eight times, has won one NBA title, and has played for Team USA.
1. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant grew up in family with a history of basketball. In fact, his father Joe played in the NBA for eight years. His father encouraged him from a young age, initially teaching him himself. Much of his childhood was spent in Italy, where his father went to play ball. Because of this, Kobe is fluent in Italian.
For high school, Kobe moved back to the US, where he played for Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania. He averaged over 30 points per game both his Junior and Senior year, and was named by USA Today and Parade Magazine as Player Of The Year, during his final year. He holds the record for most points in Southeastern Pennsylvania, breaking the marks of both Carlin Warley and Wilt Chamberlain.
He was heavily recruited by Duke, but opted to jump straight to the NBA. He was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, but was soon traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, his favorite team growing up. Over his career, he has been named an All Star fourteen times, won an NBA Slam Dunk contest, and led to Lakers to an incredible five NBA championships in one decade. He has also played for Team USA in the Olympics, helping them to win gold in both 2008 and 2012. He will certainly be remembered as one of the greatest players of all time.