Monday, June 18
Updated: June 20, 10:14 AM ET
Lure of stardom can glitter like fake gold
By Wayne Drehs
When he thinks back to the days of an 18-year-old Korleone Young slicing through defenders, picking apart defenses and swishing 15-foot jump shots, Kevin Keats lets out a sigh.
Keats, the head basketball coach at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy, was an assistant coach three years ago when Young, a player he coached, surprisingly declared for the NBA draft straight out of high school.
"It was a surprise to all of us," Keats said. "Normally, when a kid is thinking about something like this, you'll hear about it. But with Korleone, it was a total surprise."
After watching Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett enjoy immediate success after jumping from high school to the NBA, Young, a 6-foot-7 forward who grew up in Wichita, Kan., was convinced he had next.
Young, a second-round pick by the Detroit Pistons, spent the majority of his rookie season on the injured reserved list, playing just three games in March and April of 1999 before being released at the end of the '98-99 season..
Instead of joining a growing list of young NBA superstars, Young's name instead found himself mentioned in the same breathe as Taj McDavid, Ellis Richardson, Leon Smith and Bill Willoughby. Like them, Young became a poster boy for all that can go wrong when a high schooler declares for the NBA draft prematurely.
Dreams of a life as an NBA star have been replaced by the reality of bouncing around in the NBA's unofficial minor leagues.
"To be honest, I haven't talked to him in a few months," Keats said. "The last thing I knew he was in the CBA, playing extremely well for Rockford. But then the CBA thing fell through. So I don't know what he's up to now."
High schoolers have made the transition to the NBA with varying degrees of success. Nine of the 13 prep players that have entered the draft since 1995 have established themselves in the league. Some, like Bryant, Garnett and Tracey McGrady, have established themselves as bona-fide superstars.
But others haven't been so lucky.
McDavid and Richardson were never drafted. Young's NBA career lasted one season. And Leon Smith, drafted in 1999 by the Dallas Mavericks, never played a game in the NBA and ended up in a Dallas hospital's psychiatric unit after an attempted suicide. He was later arrested for attacking an ex-girlfriend.
This year, high school phenoms Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry are all expected to be lottery picks. Three other high schoolers also are expected to go in the first round.
But unlike college underclassmen, who have the ability to return to school if they don't sign with an agent, a high schooler has no escape clause. Once he officially declares for the draft, his college eligibility is lost.
Young was among those couldn't turn back. It's one of the many reasons that Keats is an opponent of players jumping from high school to the NBA. In his opinion, they should at least try college.
"These kids always talk about this life-long dream to play in the NBA. And they all think they're going to go early," Keats said. "But I push for school. If a kid got into college and did well, he still has a chance to be a great NBA player down the road. And he would have gotten the college experience."
The numbers support Keats' argument. Of the eight high school players who have declared for the NBA draft in the past three years, two are out of organized basketball entirely. A third, Young, has bounced around in the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association and International Basketball League. Of the 129 college underclassmen who have declared for the NBA draft since 1997, only 40 are on current NBA rosters.
"Many teams are drafting solely out of potential," said Stu Jackson, the NBA's senior vice president of basketball operations. "And that's not always the best route to follow."
Still, the lure of stardom beckons.
Eighteen of the past 28 NBA Most Valuable Players entered the league as collegiate underclassmen. And one, Moses Malone, made the jump from high school to the NBA. Included in this group of underclassmen-to-MVP stories are Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Allen Iverson.
Still, for every success story there are sagas like those of Richardson and McDavid. Richardson, all but laughed at when he came out in 1998, went undrafted and spent eight months in prison after being convicted on robbery charges.
In 1996, McDavid not only didn't get drafted, but failed to sign a pro contract with a team in either the CBA, IBL or overseas. He reportedly still lives in Williamstown, S.C., where his high school coach, Lawton Williams, screens his phone calls to keep curious reporters at bay.
Then there's Bill Willoughby, who declared for the 1975 NBA draft as a senior at New Jersey's Dwight Morrow High School. An NBA journeyman who played for six teams over eight seasons, Willoughby recently earned his college degree at the age of 44.
He said he understands the lures that attract of the high schoolers looking to strike it rich in the NBA.
"When I was 18, I didn't have nothing," Willoughby said. "You don't turn down $1 million coming out of high school when you're 18 years old and you don't have no money. You don't do that."
That doesn't sit well with NBA commissioner David Stern.
"I believe that kids are now bouncing the ball in school yards saying, 'Just get to be 17 and that's where I'm going,'" Stern said. "The result of that is bad policy. It's bad for the kid's development, bad for the college game, bad for the business of the NBA."
And yet still they come.
Wayne Drehs is a Staff Writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal are the biggest reasons the Lakers have won back-to-back titles. Bryant jumped from high school to the NBA. O'Neal left LSU after his junior season.|
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