The NBA high school draftees are players who have been drafted to the National Basketball Association (NBA) straight out of high school without playing basketball at the collegiate level. The process of jumping directly from high school to the professional level is also known as going prep-to-pro. Since 2005, the practice of drafting high school players has been prohibited by the new collective bargaining agreement, which requires that players who entered the draft be 19 years of age and at least one year removed from high school. Contrary to popular belief, the player does not have to play at least a year in college basketball: the player can choose to instead play in another professional league (like the NBA G League or especially somewhere overseas) like Brandon Jennings or Emmanuel Mudiay in Italy and China respectively; simply take the year off, as Mitchell Robinson and Darius Bazley did; or even hold themselves back a year in high school before declaring for the draft, like with Satnam Singh Bhamara or Thon Maker.
The NBA has long had a preference for players who played basketball at the collegiate level; the vast majority of players to play in the NBA have had college experience. However, there have been numerous notable players who attended high school in the United States and then joined the NBA without playing college basketball.
In the early years of the NBA draft, a player had to finish his four-year college eligibility to be eligible for selection. Reggie Harding, who had graduated from high school but did not enroll in a college, became the first player drafted out of high school when the Detroit Pistons selected him in the fourth round of the 1962 draft. However, the NBA rules at that time prohibited a high school player to play in the league until one year after his high school class graduated. Thus, he spent a year playing in a minor basketball league before he was drafted again in the 1963 draft by the Pistons. He finally entered the league in the 1963-64 season and played four seasons in the NBA and American Basketball Association (ABA).
In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court decision Haywood v. National Basketball Association ruled 7-2 against the NBA's requirement that a player must wait four years after high school graduation (which in most cases was spent playing in college) before turning professional. This ruling allowed players to enter the NBA Draft without four years of college, provided they could give evidence of hardship to the NBA office.
In 1974, the NBA's rival, the ABA, drafted high school star Moses Malone. He was immediately signed by the Utah Stars and became the first player to go directly from high school basketball to a professional league. He became an instant success, averaging 18 points and 14 rebounds per game in his rookie season. He played in the ABA until the ABA-NBA merger in 1976. He then played 19 successful seasons with 7 NBA teams. He won the NBA championship, along with the Finals Most Valuable Player Award, with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1983. His other achievements include 3 Most Valuable Player Awards, 12 consecutive All-Star Game selections, 8 All-NBA Team selections and 6 rebounding titles. He has been inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and was also named in the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History list announced at the league's 50th anniversary in 1996.
A year later, two high school players, Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby, applied for hardship and were declared eligible to be selected in the 1975 draft. They had applied and gave evidence of financial hardship to the league, which granted them the right to start earning a living by starting their professional careers earlier. Dawkins was selected 5th by the Philadelphia 76ers while Willoughby was selected 19th by the Atlanta Hawks. Dawkins played 14 seasons and averaged 12 points and 6 rebounds per game. Willoughby played 8 seasons with 6 different teams and averaged only 6 points per game. Neither player reached the level of success that was expected. It is argued that they could have been better players if they had college basketball experience before entering the NBA.
After Dawkins and Willoughby, no high schoolers were drafted for 14 years, though several players entered the league without playing college basketball. One player, Shawn Kemp, enrolled in college but never played any games due to personal problems. In 1989, a year after his high school graduation, he was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics. He played 14 seasons in the NBA and was selected to 6 All-Star Games and 3 All-NBA Teams.
In 1995, Kevin Garnett, USA Today's high school basketball player of the year, announced his intentions to forgo college, and declared himself eligible for the 1995 NBA draft. The move was highly controversial; the conventional wisdom at the time was that high-schoolers were neither emotionally nor physically mature enough for the rigors of the NBA game. On draft day, Garnett was selected with the #5 pick in the first round by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Garnett led the Timberwolves to eight consecutive playoff berths and was a multiple All-Star during his time with the team. In 2004, the Wolves advanced to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the Lakers; Garnett was named Most Valuable Player that year. After a trade in the 2007 offseason to the Boston Celtics, he was a core player in the Celtics' first NBA title in over 20 years.
In 1996, two notable players made the jump from high school to the NBA. The first was Kobe Bryant, selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th pick of the NBA draft, but traded almost immediately to the Los Angeles Lakers. The second was Jermaine O'Neal, selected by the Trail Blazers with the 17th pick. O'Neal was traded in 2000 to the Indiana Pacers (and later to the Miami Heat). In 1997, another All-Star caliber player, Tracy McGrady, was selected by the Toronto Raptors. In 1998, three high-schoolers were drafted with Al Harrington and Rashard Lewis experiencing the most success. Darius Miles became the highest high school player selected with the third pick in the 2000 NBA Draft, until the following year.
Beginning 2005, both the NBA and the players' union started to discuss the possibility of implementing a new age limit. league lobbied for an age minimum of 20 while the union was against an age limit. Finally in July 2005, both sides compromised in the new collective bargaining agreement, requiring that the minimum age for entry into the NBA be 19 and that entrants be at least one year removed from high school. For the first time, teams are also allowed to send players, with two years of NBA experience or less, to the NBA Development League (NBA D-League).
The terms of the new agreement ended the practice of drafting high school players, starting in the 2000 Draft. A high school player must wait at least a year to be eligible for selection. However, they are not required to spend that year in college. In 2008, high school star Brandon Jennings decided to skip college and play professional basketball in Italy. After a year, he was eligible for the 2009 draft and was selected 10th by the Milwaukee Bucks. In the 2010 draft, Latavious Williams, who did not qualify academically to go to college, spent a year playing in the NBA D-League before he was drafted in the second round.Emmanuel Mudiay decided to take a route similar to that of Jennings by skipping college to play professionally in China in 2014 before being selected 7th by the Denver Nuggets a year later. Terrance Ferguson also opted out of college for professional play, this time in Australia in 2016 before being selected a year later by the Oklahoma City Thunder as the 21st pick of the 2017 draft.
While the rules discouraged high school players from entering, starting in the early 2010s, more high schoolers opted to declare entry for the draft with the intent of being selected early. In the 2015 draft, Indian-born Satnam Singh Bhamara, who did not qualify academically to go to college, went straight to the NBA draft as a post-graduate after being at IMG Academy for five years. He would be taken by the Dallas Mavericks with the 52nd pick in the draft, thus becoming the first high school student to be drafted since the rule changes. In the 2016 draft, one of the Top-10 players that was declared eligible for NCAA play in 2016, Thon Maker, decided to enter the draft instead as a post-graduate from Orangeville Prep in Orangeville, Ontario, Canada due to him originally declaring himself as eligible for college in 2015. Thon also marked the first player to be drafted directly from a Canadian high school, as well as the second player to enter as a post-graduate. He was the first high schooler to be drafted in the first round since 2005, being drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the tenth pick, becoming the first high school lottery pick since 2005. In the 2018 draft, Anfernee Simons from the IMG Academy was also drafted in the NBA with the 24th, with Simons being a postgraduate there like Bhamara three years prior. In addition, Mitchell Robinson took a year off after high school due to exiting Western Kentucky University early without playing there, which left him drafted as the 36th pick. Most recently, in 2019, both Jalen Lecque and Darius Bazley declared entry and left their names in the draft, with Bazley entering without any collegiate or professional play after graduating from high school the previous year. Darius Bazley was selected as the 23rd pick of that year's draft by the Oklahoma City Thunder, while Jalen Lecque went undrafted, but played for the Phoenix Suns during the 2019-20 NBA season.
Some players support the new age limit. Gerald Green called it "a smart move", saying that "[not everybody is] LeBron James ... He came in ready and he dominated the league. There's a lot of players that have to get developed. Me, I've got to get developed. But I guess that age limit, that one year of college experience, can get you more developed and I think that's pretty good." Others, however, strongly criticize the rule. Andrew Bynum said "That's something I'll never understand. Because in no other business can the owner, or a stock trader, or a CEO of a company try to protect themselves by putting rules like that." Former Florida Gators and current Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan believed that the rule made high schoolers feel like they were being punished.
In December 2019, a recent report suggested that the NBA was looking to reverse their original ruling from 2005 to go back to having the age limit be 18 years old. If implemented, this would allow for players to enter the NBA directly from high school without any stipulations whatsoever.
There have been 45 high school draftees in the NBA Draft. Three draftees were selected first overall; Kwame Brown in 2001 NBA draft, LeBron James in 2003, and Dwight Howard in 2004 NBA draft. Two draftees went on to win the Rookie of the Year Award in their first season: LeBron James and 2002 draftee Amar'e Stoudemire. Three draftees went on to win the Most Valuable Player Award: Kevin Garnett in 2004, Kobe Bryant in 2008, and LeBron James in 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013. Ten draftees have been selected to the All-Star Game and ten draftees have been selected to the All-NBA Team.
|^||Denotes player who has been inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame|
|*||Denotes player who has been selected for at least one All-Star Game and All-NBA Team|
|+||Denotes player who has been selected for at least one All-Star Game|
|#||Denotes player who has never appeared in an NBA regular season or playoff game|
|Draft[a]||Round||Pick||Player||Pos.||Nationality||Draft team||High school (city)||Ref.|
|1962||4||29||Reggie Harding||C||United States||Detroit Pistons||Detroit Eastern High School (Detroit)|||
|1975||1||5||Darryl Dawkins||C||United States||Philadelphia 76ers||Maynard Evans High School (Orlando, Florida)|||
|1975||2||19||Bill Willoughby||F/C||United States||Atlanta Hawks||Dwight Morrow High School (Englewood, New Jersey)|||
|1995||1||5||Kevin Garnett^||F||United States||Minnesota Timberwolves||Farragut Career Academy (Chicago)|||
|1996||1||13||Kobe Bryant^||G||United States||Charlotte Hornets||Lower Merion High School (Ardmore, Pennsylvania)|||
|1996||1||17||Jermaine O'Neal*||F/C||United States||Portland Trail Blazers||Eau Claire High School (Columbia, South Carolina)|||
|1997||1||9||Tracy McGrady^||F||United States||Toronto Raptors||Mount Zion Christian Academy (Durham, North Carolina)|||
|1998||1||25||Al Harrington||F||United States||Indiana Pacers||St. Patrick High School (Elizabeth, New Jersey)|||
|1998||2||32||Rashard Lewis+||F||United States||Seattle SuperSonics||Alief Elsik High School (Houston, Texas)|||
|1998||2||40||Korleone Young||F||United States||Detroit Pistons||Hargrave Military Academy (Chatham, Virginia)|||
|1999||1||5||Jonathan Bender||F||United States||Toronto Raptors||Picayune Memorial High School (Picayune, Mississippi)|||
|1999||1||29||Leon Smith||C||United States||Dallas Mavericks||Martin Luther King High School (Chicago)|||
|2000||1||3||Darius Miles||F||United States||Los Angeles Clippers||East St. Louis High School (East St. Louis, Illinois)|||
|2000||1||23||DeShawn Stevenson||G||United States||Utah Jazz||Washington Union High School (Fresno, California)|||
|2001||1||1||Kwame Brown||F||United States||Washington Wizards||Glynn Academy (Brunswick, Georgia)|||
|2001||1||2||Tyson Chandler*||C||United States||Los Angeles Clippers||Dominguez High School (Compton, California)|||
|2001||1||4||Eddy Curry||C||United States||Chicago Bulls||Thornwood High School (South Holland, Illinois)|||
|2001||1||8||DeSagana Diop||C||Senegal||Cleveland Cavaliers||Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Virginia)|||
|2001||2||46||Ousmane Cisse#||F||Mali||Denver Nuggets||St. Jude High School (Montgomery, Alabama)|||
|2002||1||9||Amar'e Stoudemire*||F/C||United States||Phoenix Suns||Cypress Creek High School (Orlando, Florida)|||
|2003||1||1||LeBron James*||F||United States||Cleveland Cavaliers||St. Vincent - St. Mary High School (Akron, Ohio)|||
|2003||1||23||Travis Outlaw||F||United States||Portland Trail Blazers||Starkville High School (Starkville, Mississippi)|||
|2003||1||26||Ndudi Ebi||F|| United Kingdom
|Minnesota Timberwolves||Westbury Christian School (Houston, Texas)|||
|2003||1||27||Kendrick Perkins||C||United States||Memphis Grizzlies||Clifton J. Ozen High School (Beaumont, Texas)|||
|2003||2||48||James Lang||C||United States||New Orleans Hornets||Central Park Christian High School (Birmingham, Alabama)|||
|2004||1||1||Dwight Howard*||F/C||United States||Orlando Magic||Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy (Atlanta)|||
|2004||1||4||Shaun Livingston||G||United States||Los Angeles Clippers||Peoria High School (Peoria, Illinois)|||
|2004||1||12||Robert Swift||C||United States||Seattle SuperSonics||Bakersfield High School (Bakersfield, California)|||
|2004||1||13||Sebastian Telfair||G||United States||Portland Trail Blazers||Abraham Lincoln High School (Brooklyn, New York)|||
|2004||1||15||Al Jefferson||F||United States||Boston Celtics||Prentiss High School (Prentiss, Mississippi)|||
|2004||1||17||Josh Smith||F||United States||Atlanta Hawks||Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Virginia)|||
|2004||1||18||J. R. Smith||G||United States||New Orleans Hornets||Saint Benedict's Preparatory School (Newark, New Jersey)|||
|2004||1||19||Dorell Wright||G/F||United States||Miami Heat||South Kent Preparatory School (South Kent, Connecticut)|||
|2005||1||6||Martell Webster||G/F||United States||Portland Trail Blazers||Seattle Preparatory School (Seattle)|||
|2005||1||10||Andrew Bynum+||C||United States||Los Angeles Lakers||St. Joseph High School (Metuchen, New Jersey)|||
|2005||1||18||Gerald Green||F||United States||Boston Celtics||Gulf Shores Academy (Houston, Texas)|||
|2005||2||34||C. J. Miles||G||United States||Utah Jazz||Skyline High School (Dallas)|||
|2005||2||35||Ricky Sánchez#||F||Puerto Rico||Portland Trail Blazers||IMG Academy (Bradenton, Florida)|||
|2005||2||40||Monta Ellis||G||United States||Golden State Warriors||Lanier High School (Jackson, Mississippi)|||
|2005||2||45||Louis Williams||G||United States||Philadelphia 76ers||South Gwinnett High School (Snellville, Georgia)|||
|2005||2||49||Andray Blatche||F|| United States
|Washington Wizards||South Kent Preparatory School (South Kent, Connecticut)|||
|2005||2||56||Amir Johnson||F||United States||Detroit Pistons||Westchester High School (Los Angeles)|||
|2015||2||52||Satnam Singh#||C||India||Dallas Mavericks||IMG Academy (Bradenton, Florida)|||
|2016||1||10||Thon Maker||F/C|| Sudan
|Milwaukee Bucks||Orangeville District Secondary School (Orangeville, Ontario, Canada)|||
|2018||1||24||Anfernee Simons||G||United States||Portland Trail Blazers||IMG Academy (Bradenton, Florida)|||
^ 1: Reggie Harding played and graduated from Detroit Eastern High School in January but he played high school basketball in Nashville, Tennessee prior to the draft.
^ 2: While Ndudi Ebi was originally born and raised in London, England, he also holds Nigerian nationality due to his parents being born and raised there.
^ 3: Andray Blatche was born and raised in Syracuse, New York and holds American nationality, but he had become a naturalized Filipino since June 2014 and has officially represented the Philippines since.
^ 4: Satnam Singh officially marks the first ever player to be taken from India in the NBA. He also marks the first time since 2005 after their latest ruling on high school players that someone directly from high school would be taken in the draft, albeit as a postgraduate senior.
^ 5: Thon Maker was born in Wau, Sudan at the time, but Wau has now since become a part of South Sudan instead due to war. Even then, though, he would be raised as an Australian representative.
^ 6: Thon Maker would become the first high schooler to be selected from the nation of Canada instead of somewhere in the United States of America (and second overall high school postgraduate student). Also, while Thon attended classes at Orangeville Prep, he would play basketball games for the Athlete Institute nearby in Mono, Ontario as well.
The following players also played in the NBA or were drafted without playing college basketball; however, these players did not get drafted or join the NBA directly after their high school graduation.
|Year[b]||Debut[c]||Player||Pos.||Nationality||High school (city)||Notes||Ref.|
|--[d]||1946||Tony Kappen||G||United States||Forest Hills High School (Queens, New York)|||
|--[d]||1946||Connie Simmons||F/C||United States||Flushing High School (Flushing, New York)||
|--[d]||1948||Joe Graboski||F/C||United States||Tuley High School (Chicago)||
|1960||1969||Connie Hawkins^||F/C||United States||Boys High School (Brooklyn, New York)|||
|1974||1976||Moses Malone^||F/C||United States||Petersburg High School (Petersburg, Virginia)|||
|1988||1989||Shawn Kemp*||F/C||United States||Concord High School (Elkhart, Indiana)|||
|1986||1992||Lloyd Daniels||G||United States||Andrew Jackson High School (Queens, New York)|||
|1993||1996||Thomas Hamilton||C||United States||Martin Luther King High School (Chicago)|||
|1996||2000||Stephen Jackson||F||United States||Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Virginia)|||
|2001||2015||Marcelo Huertas||G|| Brazil
|Coppell High School (Coppell, Texas)||
|2004||2005||Jackie Butler||F/C||United States||Coastal Christian Academy (Virginia Beach, Virginia)|||
|2008||2009||Brandon Jennings||G||United States||Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Virginia)|||
|2009||Latavious Williams#||F||United States||Christian Life Center Academy (Humble, Texas)|||
|2010||2011||Enes Kanter||F/C||Turkey||Stoneridge Preparatory School (Simi Valley, California)||
|2010||2011||Jeremy Tyler||C||United States||San Diego High School (San Diego)|||
|2012||2013||Ricky Ledo||G||United States||South Kent High School (South Kent, Connecticut)|
|2013||2015||Cristiano Felício||C||Brazil||CCSE Prep Academy (Sacramento)||
|2014||2015||Emmanuel Mudiay||PG|| Democratic Republic of the Congo
|Prime Prep Academy (Dallas)|
|2014||2016||Georgios Papagiannis||C||Greece||Westtown School (West Chester, Pennsylvania)||
|2016||2017||Terrance Ferguson||SG||United States||Advanced Preparatory International (Dallas)|
|2017||2018||Mitchell Robinson||C||United States||Chalmette High School (Chalmette, Louisiana)|
|2018||2019||Darius Bazley||PF||United States||Princeton High School (Sharonville, Ohio)|
|2019||2020||Jalen Lecque||PG||United States||Brewster Academy (Wolfeboro, New Hampshire)|
Despite the success of some high school players drafted, the entry of high school players into the NBA remains controversial. Critics say that high school players are not mentally and physically mature or prepared enough to handle the pressure of professional play. Thus, they are more likely to fail. Instead, they believe that colleges are useful at filtering out players who can dominate against weak competition in high school, but cannot succeed at a higher level of play. They also think that the influx of high schoolers bypassing colleges in favor of the NBA has caused collegiate game to deteriorate. Universities are wary of spending time recruiting, as many players are financially motivated to turn pro fresh out of high school.
On the other hand, proponents argue that there is no valid reason to exclude high school players. Michael McCann, writer of law article "Illegal Defense: The Irrational Economics of Banning High School Players from the NBA Draft", contends that players drafted straight out of high school can do as well as any other players in the NBA. The article finds that "on average, these [high school] players perform better in every major statistical category than does the average NBA player". Others instead believe that the problem was due to the lack of established farm system in basketball until recently. In other major sports, such as baseball and hockey, it is common for young players to develop in their minor league systems.