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On the Fast Track

Young athletes must ponder both risks and rewards when leaving college early in hopes of a pro career.
Kenneth Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Daniel Craig, November/December 2008

(continued from page 3)

Less known, however, are those high school stars who failed. These include players such as Korleone Young and Taj McDavid. Young, a 6-7 forward from Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia, wanted to turn pro right away. At 19, he declared for the 1998 draft and was picked 40th overall. In the three games he played in the strike-shortened season of 1998—99, he scored a whopping 13 points before being released.

McDavid is another who preferred a meteoric rise to a slow and steady climb. A 6-6 forward and a potent scorer from Palmetto High School in South Carolina, he declared for the draft in 1996, the same year as Bryant and center Jermaine O'Neal. But compared to those two, McDavid was unknown. According to one analyst, McDavid was not even among the top 200 kids in the country. His name is now synonymous with unchecked ambition: he was the first of a handful of high school players to declare for the NBA draft without being selected. As a consequence, he lost his NCAA eligibility. He fought to have it restored, but ended up leaving Anderson College after one semester. Afterward, he worked at a shoe store in a South Carolina mall.

"A lot of it is bad decision making," said Baron, the Rhode Island coach. "Immature decisions or emotional decisions—I don't think there is anything wrong with individuals being able to have the opportunity, as a lot of individuals in other sports, but it is a very small percentile who succeed. So what happens to the rest of the guys that are chasing the rainbow and all of a sudden the rainbow disappears?"

The public has a selective memory, tending to recall only the success stories. Carmelo Anthony's mandatory year turned out to be a dream rendezvous. In 2003, he led Syracuse to its only national title. Anthony said that attending college was "the first time in my life I had to manage things on my own. It really helped me out a lot." Dwayne Wade, who left Marquette after his sophomore year in 2003, led the Miami Heat to their first world championship in 2006.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for college underclassmen to adopt. In some cases the right move is to take the money on the table now that won't always be there, but for others prudence should lead them to finish college, get their degree and put themselves in a better draft position after developing their skills. For every Moses Malone or Dwayne Wade who left early and reaped the benefits, there are far more onetime superstars who took the leap and paid the price.

Kenneth Shouler is the author of Total Basketball: The Ultimate Basketball Encyclopedia and is a regular contributor to Cigar Aficionado.

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