Let me tell you a story about a few guys named Kevin, Kobe and Tracy. It’s a happy story that started with these three youngsters jumping into the NBA, straight out of high school.
Kevin Garnett jumped into the NBA in 1995 and has made quite a name for himself. Last year, his ninth in the league, he led the Minnesota Timberwolves to the conference finals and won his first MVP award.
Kobe Bryant has been part of three Los Angeles Laker championships since he came into the league in 1996. Dubbed the “next Michael Jordan,” Bryant has all-around skills that may be exceeded only by Jordan himself.
Tracy McGrady was drafted in 1997 to play with his cousin, dynamic Vince Carter, for the Toronto Raptors. McGrady struggled a bit while learning the game, but now with his third team, the Houston Rockets, he is establishing himself as one of the top players in the game, and may be even more dynamic than Carter.
Now, let me tell you another story, this one involving three players named Leon, Desagana and Ndudi. This story is also about three youngsters who jumped straight out of high school and into the NBA.
The only difference between these players and the previous three is that almost nobody has heard of them. They are players who thought they could take their gifted high school basketball skills, skip college, and leap into the NBA and succeed. But they have not.
Leon Smith was drafted in 1999 by the San Antonio Spurs and traded to theDallas Mavericks before the season started. In February 2000, the Mavericks waived him and he sat out for two years, until the Atlanta Hawks gave him a try.
He lasted with them for a whopping 14 games before being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, for whom he never played. Since that time, he was signed by the Seattle Supersonics, played in one game and was waived again four months ago.
Looking at his stats since 1999, Smith has averaged two points and two rebounds, played in 15 games, and been on five teams. At this point, unless traveling a lot is considered successful, Smith’s career has been a big failure.
Desagana Diop has had a brilliant career in comparison to Smith. Although not as well-traveled, Diop has played — but not much — for the Cleveland Cavaliers since being drafted in 2001. Diop, who was the eighth overall pick in 2001, has averaged less than two points and three rebounds per game in his career.
Last, but not least, we have Ndudi Ebi. Never heard of him? Don’t worry, neither had I until recently. Last season, he had a somewhat decent stat line, with 13 points, three rebounds, three assists and four blocked shots. Not bad until you realize it wasn’t for one game, but rather the entire season. He has yet to play this season.
As you see, not everyone can jump into the NBA and be successful. For every Garnett and Bryant, you’re going to have a Diop and an Ebi. For every McGrady, you are going to have a Smith.
The year that Garnett entered the NBA, he was only the fourth player ever to do so out of high school. In 2004 alone, there were eight players who tried that.
Because these athletes do not play in college, the college game is suffering in a major way. While college basketball has made a bit of a comeback this year, it is not what it was even 10 years ago.
Currently, there are a dozen or more players either on an NBA roster or having just recently been cut from a roster, who could be shining in the college game. Imagine sophomore LeBron James for Duke battling Amare Stoudamire for Arizona in the NCAA tournament.
Unfortunately, that can only be a dream, because at this rate, college basketball is going to be for players who aren’t good enough to make it to the NBA.
At one point, college basketball was where you went to sharpen your skills for the NBA. Now, if you are a good player, you go straight to the NBA or play one year in college.
If there is one thing today’s youngsters can learn from going to college, it’s that not everyone can become a Kevin or a Kobe, just because they want to. Go to school, spend some time having fun and learning, and then try your hand in the NBA.
Don’t become another Travis Outlaw. Who?