Making the jump: Big hits, misses among NBA preps-to-pros club
Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz players Al Jefferson and C.J. Miles belong to an elite club in the NBA.
Out of the 400-plus NBA players, just 28 belong to the club, which includes the likes of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James and Dwight Howard. Amare Stoudemire, Andrew Bynum and Monta Ellis also belong to the club, as do average players such as Travis Outlaw, Dorrell Wright and Amir Johnson.
It's a club that is shrinking year by year and could be extinct within another decade or so unless the NBA decides to change its rules.
What is it?
It's the preps-to-pros club — players who have gone directly from high school to the NBA without stopping at college.
From 1995 to 2005, the NBA allowed players to go directly from high school to the league. Then, concerned about an increasing number of high school players declaring for the draft, including some who were never even drafted, the league changed the rule, saying players must be 19 or a year removed from high school to enter the draft.
Right now, the Jazz have 7.14 percent of those 28 NBA players who came out of high school in Jefferson and Miles. New York has the most high school-to-NBA players with three on its roster, while six other teams besides the Jazz have two. Eleven teams have none.
Ask Jefferson and Miles and they'll both tell you they are happy with their decisions to come out early.
"No regrets," said Jefferson, who came out of the small town of Prentiss, Mississippi in 2004 and was drafted No. 15 by the Boston Celtics.
Jefferson said from the time he was in junior high school, he had plans to go straight to the NBA.
"It was something I said I was going to do when I was in the seventh grade and nobody believed me," said Jefferson. "I said I was going to go pro out of high school. And that's what I did."
Jefferson still went through the college recruiting process and was committed to go to Arkansas before declaring for the draft.
"I was going to the league," said Jefferson, "but I had a backup plan."
He was drafted in the first round in 2004 when eight high school players were drafted and Dwight Howard went No. 1. Three high schoolers who haven't had the same measure of success as Jefferson were taken ahead of him — Shaun Livingston at No. 4, Robert Swift at No. 12 and Sebastian Telfair at No. 13.
Miles was drafted early in the second round by the Jazz the following year — No. 34 overall — out of Skyline High School in Dallas. That was the year nine high school players were taken, topped by Martell Webster by Portland at No. 6. It was also the final year that the NBA allowed high school players to be drafted.
Miles only played in 23 games his rookie season and was shuttled back and forth to the D-League, but by his fourth year, he was starting all 72 games he played in and averaged 9.1 points. His best year came last season when he averaged 12.8 ppg.
Like Jefferson, Miles says he doesn't have any regrets about leaving early, but adds "Of course, when I got here, I thought about 'what if?"'
Miles had been recruited by the likes of North Carolina, Kansas, Georgia Tech and Illinois, but chose the University of Texas in his home state. He had already signed a letter of intent when he decided to take the big step to turn pro.
And what if he'd decided to go to college? He could have teamed with a guy named Kevin Durrant, who started along with three other freshmen when Miles would have been a sophomore. Who knows, maybe that team would have won an NCAA title.
Miles strongly considered college, but after working out for several NBA teams, some more than once, and getting good feedback, he made the big decision to go pro.
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