There are plenty of reasons some high school athletes are overhyped. They generally fall into one of several categories, some of which the media are to blame for, or in some cases, the athletes themselves.
Here are the most likely categories of overhyped players, with some prominent examples of players who were standouts in high school but had dismal pro careers, if any. We’re not counting athletes who did not make it because of significant injuries on the field. We’re also not counting quarterbacks, as that is the hardest position in sports to predict success past high school.
Sons of Hall of Fame fathers
The thinking on this one is it’s a hard story to pass up. Michael Jordan was very, very, good. So maybe Marcus and Jeff Jordan will be good, too. Except they weren’t. Though they weren’t ALL-USA or McDonald’s All-Americans coming out of high school, they had the pressure of their father’s last name. Jeffrey Jordan’s high school team, Loyola (Wilmette, Ill.), played three times on ESPN his senior year. After two years at Illinois, he transferred to Central Florida, where he played alongside his younger brother Marcus. Marcus played for a state championship team at Whitney Young (Chicago) in 2009, but left Central Florida’s team after two so-so seasons.
Other examples: Barry Sanders, Jr. and Jerry Rice Jr., both of whom had average college careers. Sanders just transferred to Oklahoma State after rushing for five touchdowns in three seasons at Stanford. Rice had nine catches in two seasons at UCLA, then wrapped up his college career at UNLV with 11 catches, including the only touchdown catch of his career.
Prodigies that didn’t pan out
An easy way to get overhyped is to be very big and very good at a young age. Renardo Sidney was great as a 6-9, 240-pound underclassman, a rare big with great footwork and touch around and outside the basket. He was the No. 1-ranked sophomore when his family moved from Mississippi to Southern California and he played for Artesia (Lakewood, Calif.) and then for Fairfax (Los Angeles). But academic and fitness woes weighed him down from there. He played 48 games at Mississippi State before entering the NBA draft and was undrafted after measuring 6-10 and 304 pounds at the NBA Combine.
Other examples: Brien Taylor and Schea Cotton. Taylor was a can’t-miss prospect as a hard-throwing lefty pitcher who had all the talent in the world. The 6-3 pitcher went 29-6 with 476 strikeouts in his career at East Carteret (Beaufort, N.C.) and the New York Yankees made him the No. 1 overall selection in the 1991 Major League Baseball draft. In the minors, where he once roomed with Derek Jeter, Taylor was dominant, throwing 337 strikeouts in his first 324.1 innings. He injured his throwing shoulder in an off-field fight in 1994 and never made it past Class AA ball.
Cotton was considered the best player in the country as a 15-year-old at Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), but academic eligibility problems meant that he wasn’t able to play for UCLA, North Carolina State or Long Beach State. After a season at Long Beach City College, his family sued the NCAA and he eventually played one year at Alabama, averaging 15.5 points a game, before declaring for the NBA draft. He wasn’t selected and wound up playing in Europe for 10 years.
Have nickname, will travel
Sometimes a great nickname can be a burden. Aquille Carr was known as “The Crimestopper” because crime in nearby neighborhoods supposedly went down when he played for Patterson (Baltimore). At 5-6, he regularly dunked over taller players and was invited to the NBA Top 100 camp. One of his dunks got more than a half million hits on YouTube. He committed to Seton Hall, but instead decided to try to play professionally in China. He has since kicked around in various minor basketball leagues and has yet to be picked up by an NBA team.
Other examples: Tamir Goodman and “Tiny” Gallon. While playing for the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore, Goodman was dubbed “the Jewish Jordan” in a 1999 story by Sports Illustrated. That wasn’t exactly fair to Goodman, who wound up playing a little more than a season at Towson State; Gallon was a starter at Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) who made the 2009 McDonald’s All-America Game, but in college, he averaged only 10.3 points and 7.9 rebounds a game in his one season at Oklahoma. Though he was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round in 2010, the 6-9, 290-pound Gallon has yet to play in an NBA game.
Highlight-reel talent with an average all-around game
Being able to shine in a mixtape isn’t the same thing as being a day-in, day-out great player. If you’re very athletic and have a great video, there’s a good chance you might be overhyped. One good example is Chris Walker. The McDonald’s All-American was dunktastic at tiny Holmes County (Bonifay, Fla.), but off-the-court woes and a lack of all-around development doomed his college career. In two seasons at Florida, he averaged 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 49 career appearances, including six starts, and he was not drafted by the NBA.
Other examples: Whitney Lewis and Shaq Johnson. Lewis was considered the No. 3 player in the country by Rivals.com when he was a running back at St. Bonaventure (Ventura, Calif.) in 2003. In his final high school game, he scored five touchdowns and had 359 yards of total offense. He was considered the gem of the Trojans’ 2003 recruiting class, which included Reggie Bush, but was moved to receiver as a freshman. As a sophomore, he was academically ineligible. Lewis left Southern Cal with only three catches and transferred to Northern Iowa, where he had one touchdown in two seasons.
Johnson had a awesome mixtape as a basketball player at Milton (Alpharetta, Ga.), but after an arrest on marijuana possession got him kicked off the team at Auburn, he was the fourth-leading scorer this past season at Longwood University.
Big Apple hype heroes
With New York being the media capital of the United States, a good player from the New York area can be overhyped. There are numerous examples of this, though perhaps the best is Lenny Cooke, who starred for Lane in Brooklyn and LaSalle in Manhattan before transferring to Northern Valley Regional (Old Tappan, N.J.). As a senior at Northern Valley, he averaged 31.5 points a game and was mentioned in the same breath as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. He couldn’t play the latter part of his senior year because he was too old, so he went to Mott (Flint, Mich.), where he got his equivalency degree. Instead of following through on his commitment to St. John’s, he went undrafted by the NBA in 2002 and never played in an NBA game.
Other examples: Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond and Danny Almonte. Hammond could also fit under the great nickname category. While briefly attending Taft (Bronx, N.Y.) , he became one of the best streetball players in New York City. He was talented enough to be selected by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1991 hardship draft, but he never signed with the team because contract negotiations broke down. Partly because he served two prison sentences on drug convictions, he only played professional basketball for one season, in 1970, for the Allentown Jets of the Eastern Basketball Association, and was named a league all-star.
Almonte led his Bronx, N.Y., team to the U.S. title game in the 2001 Little League World Series, where he struck out 62 of the 72 batters he faced, but it was later discovered that Almonte’s birth certificate had been faked and he was too old to be playing Little League. He went on to be the top pitcher for James Monroe (Bronx, N.Y.) as a senior in 2006 and played right field and pitcher for Western Oklahoma State, a junior college. He was never drafted.