NBA or bust ... High School Players Aim For Dream
Jefferson is one of 13 high school players (down to nine after the early withdrawl deadline) to enter the 2004 Draft in hopes of fulfilling a dream. They are also hoping to travel a path paved by such NBA stars as LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady (see complete list below).
“I feel that coming out of Prentiss High School, that’s a small school, if you’re a great player you will get noticed,” Jefferson said. “You might not get noticed (more) quickly than other people, but eventually in the long run you will get noticed.”
Jefferson was not the lone high schooler at the 76ers workout session hoping to get noticed. He joined Oak Hill Academy’s Josh Smith.
“I always felt that I was going to be someone that had a chance to come straight out of high school to go to the NBA. Kobe (Bryant) did it. (Kevin) Garnet did it. I felt that I was going to do it too,” Jefferson explained. “I love the game, and I work hard, and I know how much I want to play. I have that feeling that I am going to do it. I am the one that wants it and everyone believes that I can do it.”
While players like Jefferson may be physically prepared to play, there is more to the equation. One important factor that may affect a high school player trying to get to the NBA is their maturity level. As Dr. Joel Fish, a sports psychologist who consults with the 76ers, explained, it takes a special personality, mentally and physically to make it in this league.
“I think there a couple mental skills that are crucial for high school players. I think you need a special degree of maturity. And I think you need a special degree of stability in your personality knowing who you are. I think you need a special degree of well-roundedness because you are going to be challenged in terms of using it in different places,” Fish said.
Smith, who has been perfecting his three-point shot, believes that his experience playing in high school and overseas has helped to prepare him.
“It prepares you well because basically you go in there, in a situation where there is a lot of games played, and then you’re traveling (in) the NBA. We played overseas and that helped because we played against some professional guys over there and that got your body ready for the NBA. You play a lot of basketball over there,” Smith stated.
Those experiences have pushed Smith to make a decision about the NBA Draft.
“The deciding factor is you know it in yourself that you're ready and that if your body’s fit and you’re mentally ready then that probably is the major thing that made me decide. I was thinking about college first really, and I was the top prospect in this year senior class and I just kind of thought about it and realized that I was maturing and growing and that’s why I decided,” Smith said.
Overall, Sixers Head Coach Jim O’Brien was impressed with the high school players and sees a bright future for them, including a possible long NBA career.
“These young high school players are extremely talented with the use of the lingo and have tremendous upsides,” O’Brien said. “Their potential is excellent.”
Despite their high school experiences, any high school player is in for an adjustment when it comes to the NBA.
“For all high school players coming into an NBA training camp, (it) is going to be an awakening because of the level of competition that they’ll find,” O’Brien said. “They have to have a mental toughness and the ability to learn in order to make this step because you can be as talented as anybody but if you don’t have that mental make-up you’ll fail.”
The 76ers, who have not taken a high school player since Darryl Dawkins in 1975, have worked out four high schoolers, including Shaun Livingston and J.R. Smith, this year.
“They are high school players and they have a lot to learn,” 76ers Assistant General Manager Tony DiLeo said. “It’s tricky for us and for every NBA team just to predict how good they will be. When you evaluate college players you have a better read because you see them in college and there’s better competition. But high school players are little trickier and it takes more effort to try to predict how they’ll be.”
Jefferson and Smith are certainly not the first or the last to chase a dream.
“High school players will come out because their life-long dream is to play in the NBA,” DiLeo said. “If they have the chance they’re going come out and try to play in the NBA. When you look at some of the best players, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnet, Lebron James, they all skipped college to the pros.”