At the beginning of every summer, a few high school basketball players are hyped as the future, or the next great! After dominating their high school season the buzz begins and people start flying up the high school rankings. Eventually players from all over the country convene at AAU tournaments, ABCD and Nike All-American Camps so that questions can get answered. By the conclusion of the summer, we see many players fizzle out, while others begin to emerge.
Looking back over the past 15 years, there have been so many great players flourish and take the thrown as king of the class. Epic battles have taken place, like in 1995, when Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury, Vince Carter, Paul Pierce and Ron Mercer all dominated their respective parts of the country.
After breaking down all the players that have come through the high school rankings in the past 15 years, 10 stood out above the rest. In some instances, high school was the highlight of their career as college and the pro’s never amounted to anything. Others used high school as a stepping stone to become one of the greats.
Without further adieu:
6'10 forward Farragut Academy, Chicago
Kevin began high school as a 6’6, pencil thin 9th grader immediately earning the starting nod for the Maudlin High School Mavericks. His game was beginning to take off and Kevin was starting to build a name for himself, when everything took a turn. In the summer going into Kevin’s Sr. year of high school, Kevin and 5 friends were charged with second-degree lynching (charges were later dropped). This prompted the move to Chicago where Kevin would flourish.
When he arrived in Chicago, Kevin was a player possessed. He absolutely dominated averaging 25.2 points, 17.9 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 6.5 blocks per game as a senior leading Farragut Academy to a 28-2 record and the city championship. He owned the summer circuit, took home MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game and established himself as the prize recruit in the star studded 1995 class.
After failing to qualify academically, Kevin decided to do something that had not been done in the 20 years prior. Kevin declared himself eligible for the NBA draft. This move would eventually open the flood gates for players like Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and LeBron James to go straight from High School to the pros.
Minnesota selected Kevin with the 5th pick and I think that it’s safe to say, the gamble paid off. An MVP in 2003 – 2004, 10 all star teams, 8 All-NBA and All-NBA Defensive Teams later, the “Big Ticket” has become one of the all-time greats.
6'7 Forward St. Vincent-St. Mary's Akron, OH, 2003
"Your prayers were answered"
Sophomore year was more dominance as LeBron captured another state championship. That summer was when things escalated, as LeBron went from the man in Akron, to the best high school player in the nation. Lenny Cooke entered ABCD Camp with all the hype, but left known as the player abused by LeBron James. His stock took quite a hit as LeBron outscored the #1 player in the Sr. class, 23 – 9. LeBron had left his mark for the entire country to take notice.
Junior and Senior seasons were more of the same for “The King” on the court, but the buzz off the court was getting out of control. St Vincent-St Mary’s was broadcasting home games on pay-per-view for $7.95, season-ticket packages for the Fighting Irish soared to $125, and the Fighting Irish made on appearance on ESPN.
All was well, until the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSSA) started to investigate how the son of a poor mother was suddenly rolling in a Hummer and rocking expensive retro-jerseys. LeBron was eventually suspended, but the decision was ultimately overturned and LeBron was able to return in time to lead the Fighting Irish back to the state championship, their 3rd in 4 years.
At this point, the high school all-American games were a joke for LeBron as nobody was even close to his level. LeBron went on to become the #1 pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers and receive an unheard of $90 million to sign with Nike. I think we all know the rest of the story…
"100 pts in a 32 minute game - that's nuts"
As a freshman, DaJuan absolutely burst onto the scene leading Camden to a South Jersey Group 3 championship. Being dubbed “The Messiah,” DaJuan had gone from legend in South Jersey to the consensus #1 player in his class. As a senior, Dajuan earned national recognition, after he dropped 100 pts in a 32 minute game. Despite the low level of competition, anytime you are able to shoot 42 of 61 and hit 10 from 3-point range, the future looks very bright.
DaJuan ended up taking his game to Memphis, where he would meet up with his newly hired father, Milt Wagner. Yes, he was that good that John Calipari, not only hired his father, but also gave best friend Arthur Barclay a scholarship, to ensure DaJuan would bring his game to Memphis. It turned into a short pit stop as DaJuan declared for the NBA after a productive freshman season.
After being selected 6th and having a solid rookie campaign, DaJuan was hit with serious health issues including severe colitis which led to the removal of his colon. He hasn’t spent much time in the NBA since. Last summer, the Golden State Warriors gave him a chance, but DaJuan appeared in just one regular season game before they decided to part ways. At only 24, it appears his NBA career is over for now, but he’ll forever be a hero in South Jersey.
6’5 guard Rice HS, New York, NY, 1994
"Not many magazine covers followed"
When you’re put on the cover of Sports Illustrated without having played a college or professional basketball game, you must have dominated in high school and that’s exactly what Felipe Lopez did.
Felipe came to the US when he was just 13 years old, from his native Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. From the moment he stepped foot in the US, he began tearing up the NYC courts. By his senior year he was heralded as the #1 player in the nation, and led Rice High School to the city championship. When put against the best high school competition, Felipe was the star among stars. Felipe earned MVP of both the McDonald’s High School All-American game after scoring 24 points, and the Magic Roundball Classic pouring in 25 pts, 11 assists and 4 steals.
Expectations were so out of control for Felipe that it would have been nearly impossible to live up to them. After deciding to stay close to home and attend St. John’s, people thought Felipe was the savior for a program that was on a steadfast decline. His college career was solid (No. 3 on St. John's career scoring list), but certainly not what people envisioned.
Stephon’s high school career got off to a brilliant start. As a freshman, he was not only living up to expectations, but exceeding them, as Lincoln coasted through their schedule. Sophomore and Junior years were more of the same. By his Senior year, Stephon had achieved everything on the court except for the NYC Championship. He was not to be denied. As the final buzzer went off in Madison Square Garden, Stephon cried uncontrollably as he finally lead Lincoln to the title. He finished his high high-school career, averaging more than 28 points per game and 9 assists, and was involved in one of the biggest recruiting battles of all time.
He would eventually choose Georgia Tech, but that was a one year stop on his way to the league. Depending on which way you look at it, you can argue whether Stephon has had a successful pro career. His numbers are unbelievable. Stephon is one of only 2 players to average 20ppg and 8assists (Oscar Robertson) throughout his career. Off the court, he got paid. Growing up in the Brooklyn projects and coming from nothing, to driving Bentley’s and getting contracts worth over $20 million per season is quite a feat.
The flip side is Stephon is a career loser who nobody wants to play with. He is yet to make it past the first round of the playoffs and teams have had instant success the moment Stephon has been traded away.
One thing is for sure, he’ll always have the high school championship that no other Marbury brother was able to bring home.
6’6 Guard Lower Merion HS, Ardmore, PA, 1996
6’10 Forward Paterson Catholic, Paterson, NJ 1996
6’11 Center Southwest Atlanta Christian, Atlanta, GA, 2004
Honorable Mention (in no particular order)
Al Harrington 6'8 Elizabeth (St. Patrick) NJ