In basketball, great players can be identified at a much earlier age than in other sports.
High school football players have to put on 20-30 pounds of muscle in college and learn to play in elaborate schemes that depend on 11 players moving in unison. The best 16-year-old baseball player in the world has never seen the action of a major league curveball.
But a 6'11 teenager with a 40' vertical? A 6'7 16-year-old who can shoot NBA-range threes? It doesn't take a wizened talent evaluator to know they have a future playing pro basketball.
These s16-year-olds become lottery tickets everyone is waiting to cash, especially in the disadvantaged communities where many NBA stars grow up. Derrick Caracter was a 6'8 13-year-old when he became famous for being the first middle schooler to play at the adidas ABCD basketball camp.
As recounted in the New York Times years later, being profiled in a national newspaper didn't exactly make him humble:
Doherty recalled Caracter telling him: "I don't understand why I have to be here in math class. I don't need this. I'm just going to go to the N.B.A."
He put on weight, flaming out of multiple high schools and was run out of Louisville by Rick Pitino for discipline problems.
Yet, in a strange way, coddling from such a young age may have saved him. Basketball is a game that depends on confidence: every time you put up a shot, you have to expect it is going to go in. When you're repeatedly told you will be great in your formative years, confidence is something you're not going to lack.
So even when Caracter was banished to Texas-El Paso and written off as a cautionary tale, he could hold on to the times when he defeated Greg Oden in a 1-on-1 battle that was reported on and talked about nationwide.
Last season, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers at the end of the second round. And while he faces long odds, over the last few years, the majority of legitimate NBA players drafted in the second round have been high-school All-Americans.
The 2004 NBA Draft produced three second-round American-born players who carved out NBA careers: Royal Ivey, Chris Duhon and Trevor Ariza. Ivey is a classic late-bloomer who established himself as a defensive specialist; Duhon and Ariza were McDonald's All-Americans ranked No. 6 and No. 18 respectively in the country as high school seniors.
The 2005 Draft, the last year high school players could declare straight to the NBA, was even more remarkable. Ten McDonald's All-Americans were picked in the second round; seven - Brandon Bass (No. 11 player in his class), C.J. Miles (No. 19), Von Wafer (No. 23), Monta Ellis (No. 3), Louis Williams (No. 7), Andray Blatche (No. 4) and Amir Johnson (No. 29) -- are still in the NBA five years later.
The same thing happened in 2006 (Pick No. 42: Daniel Gibson, ranked No. 7 in his class and Pick No. 49: Leon Powe, ranked No. 10), 2007 (Pick No. 32: Glen Davis, ranked No. 13 as a high school senior and Pick No. 37: Josh McRoberts, ranked No. 2) and 2008 (Pick No. 34: Mario Chalmers, ranked No. 12 and Pick No. 35: DeAndre Jordan, ranked No. 8). From 2009, Chase Budinger, the 44th selection and No. 7 player in his high school class, looks like he'll have a long career in Houston.
Of course, there are still flame-outs like one-trick dunking sensation James White (No. 22) and undersized gunner Bracey Wright (No. 12) as well as underdog stories like Jazz star Paul Millsap (No. 130) and Hornets forward Carl Landry, who played at Vincennes University as a freshman.
It doesn't seem fair, but the super-talented kid who wasted a chance is probably a better gamble than the scrappy guy who kept going when everybody doubted him. With that in mind, here's a quick look at five high school All-Americans who underachieved in college and could become the steals of the 2011 NBA Draft.
Because of his family's dire economic situation, Selby, the No. 6 player in the high school class of 2010, was almost guaranteed to be a one-and-done player. A phenomenal athlete at 6'2, 180 pounds, Selby was rarely able to showcase his talent in his one year in Lawrence.
He missed the first nine games because of amateurism violations, and then injured his foot just as conference play in the Big 12 began. When he returned, the rotation of a veteran Jayhawk team was set, and there was little room for the slashing combo guard on an inside/out team built around the Morris twins.
But with the banning of the hand-check in the NBA, many undersized scoring guards similar to Selby -- from Monta Ellis to Eric Gordon -- have flourished despite not being true point guards.
A 6'6, 220-pound guard who often ran the point for Georgia Tech, Shumpert, the No. 22 player in his class, couldn't replicate his high school success in Atlanta. While he has great court vision for his size -- averaging 5 assists as a freshman -- he spent more time hunting for his own shot than running the offense for the Yellow Jackets.
He'll play off the ball in the NBA, where he can use his combination of athleticism, quickness and a 6'10 wingspan to defend all three perimeter positions. NBA teams are always looking for versatile defenders, and Shumpert has as much potential on that side of the ball as anyone in this draft.
An athletic 6'7, 205-pound shooting guard, Hopson had an up-and-down career in Knoxville. As a junior, he averaged 17 points a game, while shooting 45 percent from the field and 37 percent from beyond the arc.
But he was never able to impact the game without scoring, and his play was marked by inconsistency: from scoring 27 points on 10-13 shooting at Pittsburgh to only 7 points in an embarrassing home loss to Oakland (MI) three days later.
His size, athleticism and scoring ability definitely merit a flier in the second round.
One of the biggest mysteries in this draft, Tyler spurned a commitment to Louisville and left high school after his junior season to play basketball in Europe. But his experience overseas was nothing like Brandon Jennings', and he was quickly sent packing by his club team for lacking both maturity and the skill level to compete as a professional.
He spent much of last year under the tutelage of former Spurs coach Bob Hill in Japan, where he earned raves for his work ethic. While he hasn't played against high-level competition in years, he's a 20-year-old 6'11, 260-pound big man with a 7'5 wingspan and a max vertical of over 30 inches. To get a player with that kind of potential at the end of the first round or early in the second is almost unheard of.
A 6'5, 200-pound shooting guard with a 6'10 wingspan and great lateral quickness, Lee was the No. 20 ranked player in his high school class. But he could never replicate that success in his three years at UCLA, where he struggled with his jumper and his role in Ben Howland's strict half-court offense.
However, many of Howland's guards have turned out to be much better pros than collegians -- from Russell Westbrook to Jrue Holiday and Arron Afflalo. Lee has a shot at becoming the next Bruin to surpass his college production.