It’s easy for fans to look at the current version of their favorite NBA players and think “they were probably dominant at the sport since they were in middle school.” There are many prodigies whose talent is apparent from a very young age, but there are others who faced obstacles in their journey to just get on the court with the world's best players.
Even the most casual NBA fans could give you a summary of each of the players below, but few people could explain what happened to help these players make it into the spotlight. There are college stars, national champions, and players who shattered record on the professional level, but they all had a bumpy start.
These players didn't have to resort to being recruited from a junior college after graduation like some of the great NFL players. But, there was definitely a period when they questioned if they could achieve their ultimate goal.
Maybe it takes a high school coach to challenge you at a young age to become great?
Either way, enjoy our list of NBA Stars who didn't make their high school teams on their first try:
It’s hard to imagine that a player who was selected third overall in the NBA Draft and carved out a 17 year career would not be viewed as a potential superstar in high school. But that’s exactly the reality Carmelo Anthony faced when he moved to Baltimore from New York with his mother right before high school.
The teenager was obsessed with sports; he was a baseball player for Towson Catholic High School, despite basketball being his first love. But he didn’t quite have the physical profile of someone who would be one of the greatest scorers in NBA history at age 14.
Anthony was cut from the varsity basketball team standing just over six feet tall, and then got his lucky break.
“I grew four inches and I thought I was going to die, literally,” Anthony said. Via CigarAficionado.
The growth spurt may have been hard to deal with physically at the time, but it gave the future ten-time NBA All-Star the jump start he needed to carve out a prolific career.
Melo wasn’t the only high profile player to not quite make the cut during his high school basketball career. Two of the greatest champions in NBA history, and sports history, also experienced setbacks trying to advance playing the game they loved.
The 11-time NBA champion, who played with the Boston Celtics in the 1950s and '60s, had to work hard to earn a spot on the junior varsity team. Still very visible at events like NBA All-Star weekend, Bill Russell went from struggling for playing time as a teenager to being an ambassador for the sport all over the country.
“As I stared at the list of players on the bulletin board who advanced to the next tryout, I did not find my name on it, no matter how many times I read it,” Russell wrote in an article for the USA Today.
Fortunately for Russell, his middle school coach met up with him after the tough news and told him that he wanted the youngster to really work on his game, and practice each day at the local Boys and Girls Club.
Russell took that advice to heart, and the rest, as they say, is history.
But the most famous story of an NBA player not being deemed good enough to play on his high school varsity team belongs to none other than “The Last Dance” hero himself, Michael Jordan. Jordan’s story at Laney High School is well chronicled, and perhaps debated among some as to how the events truly unfolded.
At the end of the day, likely the greatest basketball player who ever lived was told he was not good enough, and that should be motivation enough for anyone to keep working at their craft. Jordan was bypassed on the Laney varsity roster, and was instead relegated to the junior varsity team.
“Whenever I was working out and got tired and figured I ought to stop, I’d close my eyes and see that list in the locker room without my name on it. That usually got me going again.” Jordan confirmed via Newsweek.
The future Chicago Bulls NBA champion lit up the competition at that level, and was fueled by the slight.