No LeBrons or Amares this year

Updated: January 22, 2005, 2:25 PM ET
By Chad Ford | ESPN Insider
If you're sick of high school seniors crashing the draft every year, the 2005 selection process might be for you.

After a record eight high school players went in the first round of the 2004 draft, we're all in for a small one-season break.

Scouts are saying the Class of 2005 will be the worst high school class in recent history. The class is so bad that the three best high school players in the country are two juniors and a sophomore, not seniors.

Next year Greg Oden, a 7-foot, 240 pound junior from Indianapolis and Brandan Wright, a 6-foot-10, 220 pound junior from Nashville, Tenn., both appear to be locks for the top five. The year after that, O. J. Mayo, a 6-foot-5 sophomore point guard is projected as a high lottery pick.

The NBA scouts and front-office executives that Insider consulted unanimously believe that every high school prospect this year should go to college. That's the first time I've seen that in the seven years I've been doing this column.

Publicly, scouts and GMs always say kids should go to college. But privately, they'll whisper in prospects' ears that they're interested if they do declare. This year, publicly and privately, they're telling this year's crop to go to school.

Why? Of the seniors that scouts are the most intrigued with, none of them really have the game, size or body to contribute to the NBA right now. Players like LeBron James, Amare Stoudemire and Dwight Howard all had the size, bodies and athletic ability that scouts comb the world for. This year's crop consists of undersized guards, 'tweeners or stringbeans.

The prospects are closer to Travis Outlaw or Ndudi Ebi than they are to LeBron or Amare. Could they be good down the road? Sure. Are any of them even close to being ready for to play on a NBA team? No.

That means that most of them will slip to good teams in the mid-to-late first round with no time to develop them. That's been the one recipe for disaster for the young kids coming out. Their development is stifled in ways that LeBron's and Amare's weren't. In college, they'd be playing 35 minutes a night. In the NBA, they're lucky to get off the injured list.

Unfortunately, the kids aren't listening. A number of them have all but signed up for the draft. Five years ago, a high school kid (with the exception of a few hardship cases) wanted an assurance that he'd be a high lottery pick before he declared. Three years ago, any position in the lottery would do. Now, if a team will commit to them anywhere in the first round, most teenagers seem comfortable skipping college and heading straight to the pros.

So, it's with great reluctance that we give you a quick look at five high school seniors scouts are watching this season. Take a good look at them while you can, because they're going to be on a milk carton for the next several years if they choose to declare.

Chad Ford

ESPN Senior Writer