For every Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins, Kobe Bryant or Dwight Howard, the list of high school kids who have attempted the express lane from high school to the NBA and failed would stretch as long as a Pennsylvania Turnpike exit ramp.
They shared the same dreams as Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady and Jermaine O'Neal. The best of them even had game enough to be drafted, which history shows is no guarantee. Sadly, most of the risk-takers, you've never heard of.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely you ever will.
"There are a bunch of kids who are uniquely talented and physically ready to play, or at least make a roster in the NBA, I'd say every year," said one NBA scout, who requested anonymity because of a league mandate on talking about early entry for the draft, or about the proposed age-limit issue.
"But not all of them are. And the odds of those kids making it out of high school are just . . . well, let's put it this way. Just because you don't want to go to college doesn't mean you can play in the league. Those kids have a better chance with the progressive slots in Atlantic City than they do of making it in the NBA out of high school."
The success stories are household names, playing on national TV in your living room throughout the season. Forgotten are Korleone Young, James Lang, Taj McDavid, Lenny Cooke and countless more who bypassed college and tried to make it shortly after picking up high school diplomas, only to find they made a grave, grave mistake. They weren't good enough.
Another group of high school dreamers don't even make an official NBA early-entry list. A third group of former schoolboys who took the early-entry gamble at age 18, were drafted and made rosters as developmental "project" draft picks. Those fortunate players have earned huge dollars while learning and being buried on NBA benches, even if they eventually face uncertain NBA futures when their first pro contracts expire.
Lang is one of the former McDonald's all-Americans who not only wasn't ready in 2003, but doubled his mistake by tuning out friends' advice. After he dropped 70 pounds before his senior season and became a dominant 6-foot-10, 316-pounder as a fifth-year player at Central Park Christian School in Birmingham, Ala., friends urged him to go to college.
Instead, he listened to scouts and others who told him he might be a No. 1 draft pick, meaning guaranteed millions. Instead, he was drafted 48th by the New Orleans in the second round. He spent the first three months on the injured list, was released just after Christmas 2003, and has bounced around various leagues since, hoping to be ready for another chance at the NBA someday.
Also in 2003, Charlie Villanueva listened to advisers, withdrew his name from the draft and accepted a scholarship to play for Connecticut.
Villanueva, now with a national championship ring and two years of development in the Big East, has hired an agent and will enter the draft. He is projected as a first-round draft choice.
Meanwhile, Lang recently returned from a year playing in Spain. Agent Tony Dutt told the Philadelphia Daily News Lang's goal continues to be "getting in shape," with hopes of being in an NBA camp this fall.
Two talented kids. Two similar decisions. Villanueva is about to grasp success. Lang, who never attended college, still seems to be grasping at straws after one gigantic wrong decision.
Dutt said that had the proposed 20-year-old age limit been in place two years ago, such a rule would have "automatically made James' decision for him."
"And it would have been the best for him," Dutt said. "James just wasn't ready for the NBA."
A major issue with James was his family situation, Levan Parker, headmaster and head basketball coach at Central Park Christian, said via telephone.
"He originally was going to go to Louisville for a couple, three years, and Coach [Rick] Pitino told him he'd send him on [to the NBA] with this blessing when he was ready. It looked like that's what he was going to do, and then . . .
Parker's voice trailed off.
"And then he scored 14 or 15 in the McDonald's game, against guys being talked about as lottery picks, and everything changed."
Lang did not return phone calls for this story. Parker said Lang, being raised, along with many siblings, by a single parent (mother Wanda Harris), began to see dollar signs.
Parker said Lang's intentions were good, based entirely on what he was being told by NBA representatives.
"I didn't advise him to take [the risk] or not take it," Parker said. "I'd be hesitant to tell a kid what to do. But I told him what I'd tell any kid in that situation. You're the one who is going to have to live with your decision.
"But kids like James don't get enough credit for thinking of their families first, and themselves second. James is a salt-of-the-earth good kid, everybody will tell you that. People who know are telling him he could be a late first-round pick. What's a kid to do? Well, James thought of his family, he was being offered an opportunity to provide for his mother, and coming off a strong performance against all the big boys, he went ahead with it.
"I think James would tell you he doesn't regret it. Because, honestly, we don't know how it would have worked out, had he gone to college, do we?"
Parker said that Lang, unlike many kids in the same situation, could have done the work as a student in college.
Had an NBA age limit been in place, Parker thinks the Lang story would be a much more positive one, with a happier ending.
"I think it'd be a positive thing for many kids," Parker said, "and with others, the ones who are really, really ready, like LeBron [James] and the others, it's a roadblock to them starting a career and making a good living. I see both sides of it. But for James, it would have been a positive."