Starting in the mid-90s, it became all the rage for NBA teams to start drafting players directly out of high school. The days of four years of NCAA basketball before turning pro were drying up fast. And with good reason — you only have to look at the examples of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and LeBron James to understand why NBA teams didn’t want to wait to snag those generational players (and the players didn’t want to wait to collect those professional paychecks, either).
Everything got a bit out of control, and 10 years later the NBA changed their rules. As of 2006, players are no longer eligible for the draft directly out of high school, forcing promising young players to play a single year in the NCAA or go overseas to play pro basketball somewhere else for a year. The NBA G-League (formally the D-League) is a more recent option that some players are now taking.
The problem is that for every Kobe or LeBron who led their team to a championship, most teams also got stuck with dozens of players who turned out to be complete busts. Here are 12 high school draftees who never managed to make a mark in the NBA.
Okay, Martell Webster isn’t the worst high school draft bust in NBA history. But we have to start the list somewhere. The thing that gets Webster a spot on this list is how high he was drafted — sixth overall in the 2005 draft, by the Portland Trail Blazers, after impressing scouts while playing for Seattle Prep. Most draft guides had him ranked in their top five that summer.
He did not turn out to be a top five player.
Webster managed to stay in the NBA for ten seasons (although he only played a single game in 2008-09), but only averaged 8.7 points per game, 3.1 rebounds, and just a single assist. Not great for such a high draft pick. Portland eventually gave up on him and traded him to Minnesota in 2010. More average performances and a bad back injury that required surgery followed. He later signed a free agent contract with the Washington Wizards, and for one game in 2013 looked like the player everyone thought he could have been — 34 points and five assists and 8-of-10 shooting and a scorching 7-of-10 from beyond the arc.
His back problems soon popped up again, including another surgery, and Webster was eventually forced to retire in 2017.
For much of their existence, the Toronto Raptors were awful. Sure, the Vince Carter days were good and the recent playoff runs on the backs of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have set “The Six” on fire, but the Raptors have more than a few draft missteps. Andrea Bargnani, anyone?
When it comes to high schoolers, though, Toronto used the fifth overall pick in the 1999 draft to grab Jonathan Bender from Picayne Memorial High School in Mississippi. They flipped the highly sought-after prospect to the Pacers for Antonio Davis, but Bender struggled in Indiana. High expectations and a series of injuries took their toll on Bender, as he only averaged 5.5 points and 2.1 rebounds a game over seven seasons with the Pacers (and he only played in seven games in 2004-05 and just two in 2005-06).
Bender missed the next three seasons due to a catastrophic knee injury. He attempted a comeback in 2009 with the Knicks, played 25 games (putting up even worse numbers than before), and eventually retired.
It’s hard being the No. 1 overall draft pick. An entire fan base immediately expects you to become the cornerstone of their team for the next decade, but not everyone is capable of living up to that. To make matters worse for Kwame Brown, he was drafted by Michael Jordan himself, while His Airness was a part of the Washington Wizards front office. He was plucked out of Glynn Academy in Georgia, where he was a true legend — he holds most of the school’s basketball records.
Unfortunately, his high school dominance didn’t translate to the NBA. He struggled to produce and rarely started. Washington shipped him to the Lakers in 2002 trade, but no matter where Brown played, he was a disappointment — including stops in Memphis, Detroit, Charlotte, Golden State, and Philly. He finished his career averaging just 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds a game. Considering multi-time All-Stars like Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol, Joe Johnson, and Tony Parker were all drafted after Brown, he turned out to be a huge mistake for the Wizards.
Ndudi Ebi was born in the U.K., raised in Nigeria, but moved to the states to attend high school in Houston. At 6’9″, he gravitated towards basketball. Despite originally committing to attend the University of Arizona, he changed course and declared himself eligible for the 2003 NBA draft. The Minnesota Timberwolves took a chance on him with the 26th overall pick, knowing that he was a work in progress who could have a tremendous upside.
Spoiler alert: He did not have a tremendous upside.
Ebi played just 17 games in his first season in the NBA, and then just two games in his sophomore year. He averaged a lowly 2.1 points and 1.0 blocks. The T-Wolves actually wanted to send him to the Developmental League, but the NBA refused to allow it (the D-League only accepted players with less than two years of NBA experience, which Ebi technically had reached).
Ebi was released and signed with the Mavericks, but only played a handful of preseason games for them before once again being cut loose. Since then, Ebi has played for almost 20 different semi-pro and/or foreign pro teams, never staying anywhere for longer than a year or two.
The tale of Robert Swift is a sad one. In the early 2000s, he was one of the top high school basketball players in the country while suiting up for multiple high schools in Bakersfield, California. He originally accepted a scholarship to play for USC, but was taken with the twelfth overall pick in the 2004 draft by the Seattle SuperSonics. At 7’1″ and 260 pounds, Swift was expected to eventually become Seattle’s starting center.
Swift was never considered a surefire superstar, so the Sonics attempted to ease him into the pros. He only played in 16 games in his rookie year, and then 47 the year after (starting 20 of them). He did start to show some promise, before major injuries to both knees (a ruptured ACL in his right, a torn meniscus in his left) effectively ended his NBA career. In 2009, the (now) Oklahoma City Thunder released Swift, putting his final NBA stats at 4.3 points and 3.9 rebounds a game.
He has attempted to play overseas, but ran into multiple legal and personal problems from 2010 to 2015, including a DUI, having his house foreclosed (and refusing to leave), drug charges, and illegal weapons charges. He is currently trying to revive his career in Spain.
Although everyone else on this list was drafted from 1998 to 2006 when the “draft a high school kid” trend was at its peak, Bill Willoughby was actually one of the first players to ever be taken as an 18-year-old high school kid when he was selected by the Atlanta Hawks with their second round pick back in 1975. At the time, he became the second youngest player in NBA history (and is still the sixth youngest ever).
Willoughby ended up being an NBA journeyman, playing for six different teams in a career that spanned ten seasons. While he played center in high school, he was only big enough (6’8″, 205 pounds) to play power forward in the NBA, which limited his success. He appeared in 488 games in his career, but started just 44 of them, averaging 6.0 points and 3.9 rebounds. He later said he regretted skipping college and having the chance to refine his game before going pro. It would be 20 years before NBA teams dared to once again draft high school players, when Kevin Garnett went fifth overall in 1995.
Korleone Young is the lowest draft pick on this entire list, coming in at a 40th overall choice by the Detroit Pistons in the 1998 draft. While he wasn’t expected to be a superstar, the Pistons were certainly hoping he would become a reliable contributor. Unfortunately, the Hargrave Military Academy senior didn’t come as advertised.
The writing was on the wall when he slipped way down the board on draft night, as he was projected to go in the mid-to-late first round. The Pistons eventually pulled the trigger on Young, but his career was brief and disappointing. He would only appear in three games in his rookie season (the lockout shortened 1998-99 campaign) before the Pistons released him. An injury and a failed summer league stint with the 76ers didn’t help his progress either, and he was out of the NBA almost as quickly as he came. He averaged just 4.3 points and 1.3 rebounds and only played 15 total minutes of NBA basketball.
At a massive 7’0″ tall, the Cleveland Cavaliers had big expectations for DaSagana Diop when they took him eighth overall in the 2001 draft. The Senegalese-born center had attended high school at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia and decided to go straight to the pros. And while his size made him a decent shot blocker and rebounder, the Cavs quickly realized his game was fairly one dimensional.
Diop managed to appear in 601 games over 12 seasons, but he only started 93 of them. And when you consider his career stats — just 2.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.0 block per game — and his high place in the draft order, you have to give Diop the “flop” label. After stints with the Mavericks, Nets, Mavericks (again), and the Bobcats, Diop finally retired in 2013 and moved into coaching.
The Los Angeles Clippers tried their luck with a high school kid when they drafted Darius Miles directly out of East St. Louis Lincoln High School with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2000 draft. The explosive small forward was (at the time) the highest drafted high school player ever. Miles was certainly an entertaining basketball player at times, but that’s about it.
The early 00s Clippers were high flying and athletic, but immature. They produced plenty of highlight reel dunks, but not many wins. Sure, the 2000 draft wasn’t the most stacked class ever (producing just three players who went on to make All-Star teams), but the third overall pick is supposed to be a consistent performer. Miles was eventually traded to Cleveland after two seasons in L.A., and then to Portland roughly 18 months later. A huge blowup with then-coach Maurice Cheeks and microfracture surgery on knee basically ended his time with the Blazers.
Miles missed two full seasons rehabbing his knee, and attempted a comeback with the Grizzlies in 2008-09, but only managed to appear in 34 more games before calling it quits. He finished with 10.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game — respectable totals for some, but not for a former No. 3 overall pick.
In his senior year of high school, Dorell Wright averaged 29.4 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks per game. He was considered a five-star recruit and committed to attending DePaul before changing his mind and declaring for the NBA draft. While he wasn’t a lottery pick, the Miami Heat decided he was worth their first round pick (19th overall) in the 2004 draft. However, he didn’t make his NBA debut until the following February. One year after that, the Heat assigned him to the D-League.
The long range specialist managed to get an invite to the 3-Point Shootout during All-Star Weekend in 2011, but that was as close to an All-Star team Wright would ever be. He bounced from the Heat to the Warriors to the 76ers to the Trail Blazers and eventually ended up playing overseas in countries like China, Germany, and Russia. His final numbers in the NBA were an unimpressive 8.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists a game.
The San Antonio Spurs have become legendary for plucking out obscure players and turning them into All-Stars and NBA champions. Despite their unrivaled success, they whiffed miserably in the 1999 draft when they took Leon Smith from Martin Luther King High School (Chicago) with the 29th overall pick. Luckily for the Spurs, though, they immediately traded him to the Mavericks. They can consider it a bullet dodged.
Smith never even suited up for the Mavs, as he started to display numerous troubling psychological issues. He was even committed to a psych ward briefly after taking 250 aspirins and a bizarre encounter with police where he claimed he was a Native American in a battle against Christopher Columbus.
Three years later in 2002, still having never played in the NBA, Smith signed a contract with the Atlanta Hawks. That lasted just 14 games. In 2004, Smith managed to get a contract with the SuperSonics, but only appeared in a single game for them. All told, Smith’s career starts are depressing — 2.2 points and 2.2 rebounds in just under seven minutes per game, in just 15 appearances on an NBA court.
Talk about a wasted draft pick. Sure, it was near the end of the second round (48th overall), but the New Orleans Hornets really whiffed completely when they took James Lang in the 2003 draft. The graduate of Central Park Christian High School in Birmingham, Alabama couldn’t even crack the active roster during preseason. Then back injuries kept him inactive until the Hornets waived him in December.
He worked out for the Jazz and the Raptors, but couldn’t secure a job. He even played briefly in Spain, but ended up representing the Arkansas RimRockers of the D-League in 2006. He landed a couple 10-day contracts with the Atlanta Hawks, but never got into a game. His only NBA action happened in 2006-07, when he appeared in 11 games for the Washington Wizards, averaging just 1.0 point and 1.0 rebound per game.
Sadly, Lang suffered a stroke in 2009 at the age of 26 which left him partially paralyzed, effectively ending any chance of another comeback attempt.