These NBA Stars Said “No” To College And Made Their Basketball Dreams Come True

Basketball | 8/6/20

In 2005, the NBA approved a collective bargaining agreement that included the now-infamous “one and done rule.” The rule stated that any player declaring for the draft must be one year removed from graduating high school. It was designed to encourage players to go to college for one year and “mature as men” before going pro. Before that, stars like LeBron James were able to move immediately from high school to the NBA. With the future of the “one and done” in limbo, read on to see all the NBA stars that didn’t go to college before joining the big show!

Lou Williams Paid His Dues In The D-League

lou williams clippers
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Lou Williams entered the NBA in 2005, de-committing from the University of Georgia to go pro right away. He was taken with the 45th overall pick by the Philadelphia 76ers and failed to make an impact his rookie season.

After being sent to the D-League (now G-League), Williams grew within the system and turned himself into a valuable NBA player. Known as a sure shot today for the Clippers, Williams has continued to play at an all-star level over a decade into his career.

Tyson Chandler Proved He Could Play Right Away

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Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As the number two overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft, there were a lot of expectations placed on Tyson Chandler’s 18-year-old shoulders from the start of his professional career. While he hasn’t quite lived up to the hype, he has proven to be a very capable player.

In 2011, Chandler helped the Dallas Mavericks defeat the LeBron James-led Miami Heat in the NBA Finals to win the championship. Two seasons later he was named an All-Star for the first time.

LeBron James Is The Face Of The NBA

lebron james lakers
Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

Is there a single player in NBA history who skipped college and was better than LeBron James? Taken with the first overall pick by Cleveland in 2003, James has always played like he’s from another planet.

At his peak, LeBron went to eight straight NBA Finals, winning three rings, including the first-ever for the Cavaliers. Still going strong in his mid-30s, James signed a massive contract with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2019 to bring the once-legendary franchise back to life.

Kristaps Porzingis Found The “One And Done” Loophole

kristaps prozingis knicks
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In 2015, Kristaps Porzingis entered the NBA Draft. The young star did not attend college in the United States — he played professionally in Europe, finding a loophole of sorts in the “one and done” rule.

Taken by the Knicks with the fourth overall pick, Porzingis quickly won over the fan base. In 2018, he was named an All-Star for the first time. In 2019, the Knicks traded the budding superstar to the Dallas Mavericks in a move that still makes little sense today.

Marc Gasol Went Pro… In Spain!

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Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Born in Spain, Marc Gasol was a teenager when his family moved to Tennessee. He became a high school basketball star and a hot college recruit. Gasol wasn’t interested in college basketball, though, and chose to go back to Spain and begin his professional career in the ACB.

From 2003 until 2008 Gasol honed his craft in Spain. Since joining the NBA, he has gone on to become a three-time All-Star and one time NBA Champion.

Jermaine O’Neal Became A Six-Time All-Star

jermaine oneal suns
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Taken with the 17th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft by the Portland Trailblazers, it took Jermaine O’Neal a few years to find his footing in the league. In 2000, disappointed with his development, the team traded him to Indiana, and two years later he made his first of six All-Star teams.

O’Neal played his final season with the Golden State Warriors in 2013, although he didn’t officially retire. During his nearly 20-year career, the NBA star played for seven different teams.

Amar’e Stoudemire Dropped 38 Points In One Game As A Rookie

amare stoudemire knicks
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Coming out of high school, Amar’e Stoudemire originally committed to the University of Memphis. Like others, he later rescinded that commitment and declared for the NBA Draft, where he was taken with the ninth overall pick by the Phoenix Suns.

In his rookie season, Stoudemire made national headlines when he scored 38 points in one game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He would go on to be named to six All-Star teams and finished his American career with Miami in 2016.

Shawn Kemp Wasn’t Eligible To Go To College

shawn kemp nba
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

In an odd twist of fate, Shawn Kemp actually tried to go to college before entering the NBA but was deemed ineligible. After committing to the University of Kentucky in high school, the young star failed to score high enough on his SATs to be accepted.

Kentucky’s loss turned into the NBA’s gain, as his size coming out of high school helped turn him into a star right away. Kemp was named an All-Star six times.

Yao Ming Would Have Been A College Cheat Code

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Kirby Lee/Getty Images
Kirby Lee/Getty Images

If Yao Ming had played college basketball, he would have been impossible to stop. It was hard enough to guard someone who stood seven feet and six inches tall in the NBA, so you can imagine how that would have gone for college players.

Thanks to a combination of his size and skill, Ming transitioned seamlessly from China to the NBA. He was named an All-Star eight times and played his entire American career with the Houston Rockets.

Pau Gasol Went Back Home Before His Brother Marc

pau gasol nba
Abbie Parr/Getty Images
Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Gasol brothers have a lot in common. After high school, both played professionally in Spain before entering the NBA, skipping college entirely. Both also turned into perennial All-Stars, with Pau boasting a slightly more impressive resume than Marc.

When Pau called it a career after 17 seasons, he had won two NBA championships and was named an All-Star six times, doubling the totals of his brother (who still has time to match him).

Tony Parker Has Four NBA Titles To His Name

toy parker nba
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Unlike many of his counterparts, Tony Parker never played basketball in America until joining the NBA and being drafted by the San Antonio Spurs. Parker was born in Belgium and raised in France, where he caught the attention of Spurs’ head coach Greg Popovich.

What seemed like a gamble of a draft choice back then turned into a steal. Parker played almost his entire career for San Antonio. Under the tutelage of “Pop,” he became a four-time NBA champion and six-time All-Star.

Dwight Howard Is A Three-Time Defensive Player Of The Year

dwight howard lakers
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Dwight Howard was nine years old when he first developed a passion for basketball. A combination of size and speed, once he hit the court in high school he was unstoppable. For him, it was clear that college wasn’t necessary, and in 2004 he declared for the NBA Draft.

The Orlando Magic took Howard with the first overall pick and saw him flourish into one of the league’s elite players. In his prime, Howard was an eight-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

Tracy McGrady Didn’t Need College To Be A Hall Of Famer

tracy mcgrady nba
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

For a brief moment near the end of his high school career, Tracy McGrady considered committing to the University of Kentucky. Instead, he declared for the NBA Draft and was taken with the ninth overall pick by the Toronto Raptors in 1997.

What followed was a career that lasted until 2016 that saw McGrady be named an All-Star seven times. As a member of the Orlando Magic, he set eight franchise records. In 2017, he was inducted into the Joe Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Dirk Nowitzki Was The First Overseas NBA Revolutionary

dirk noitzki nba
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Dirk Nowitzki began his professional basketball career in 1994 in Germany. Four years later, he entered the NBA and become one of the league’s greatest all-time shooters. The big man was also the first player in NBA history to not go to high school or college in the United States and be named to an All-NBA First Team.

Nowitzki played his entire NBA career for the Dallas Mavericks, officially retiring in 2019. When the time comes, he will unquestionably be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Moses Malone Was A Three-Time NBA MVP

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Focus on Sport via Getty Images
Focus on Sport via Getty Images

Moses Malone might have skipped college, but he didn’t go to the NBA straight out of high school. After de-committing to the University of Maryland, Malone declared for the 1974 ABA Draft and was taken by the Utah Stars.

When the ABA merged with the NBA, Malone joined the New Orleans Jazz and began his Hall of Fame career. By the time he retired, Malone was a 12-time All-Star, a Finals MVP, and a three-time regular-season MVP.

Kevin Garnett Was Forced To Go Pro

kevin garnett nba
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

If Kevin Garnett had scored high enough on his ACT, he would have liked to attend the University of Maryland. Because he wasn’t eligible for college, though, he was forced to declare for the NBA Draft.

Garnett was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1995 and played there until 2007 when he was traded to the Boston Celtics. He retired in 2016 as a 15-time All-Star and one time NBA champion after going back to Minnesota for one season.

Kobe Bryant Could Have Gone To Duke

kobe bryant nba
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant is one of the top five NBA players of all-time, and he never went to college. When asked online where he would have gone, the Black Mamba gave a surprising answer — Duke.

Skipping Duke worked out just fine for Bryant. He retired as an 18-time All-Star, five-time NBA champion, and one-time NBA MVP. Tragically, Bryant’s life was lost in a helicopter crash in 2020. He was just 41 years old.

Manu Ginobili Was The Spurs’ Secret Weapon

manu ginobili nba
JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images
JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images

Before Greg Popovich turned Manu Ginobili into the 57th overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, he told Tony Parker, “This guy is coming, and nobody in the U.S. knows how good he is.”

Popovich, as he usually is on player evaluations, was spot-on with Ginobili. The Argentinian was a part of four NBA championships in San Antonio and was a two time NBA All-Star. He retired as a franchise icon and NBA legend.

Vlade Divac Scored 13,000 Career Points

vlade divac nba
Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images
Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

Best known today as the general manager of the Sacramento Kings, Vlade Divac is also one of just seven players in NBA history with 13,000 points scored, 1,500 shots blocked, 3,000 assists, and 9,000 rebounds.

Divac played for 15 seasons in the NBA, beginning his incredible career in 1989 with the Los Angeles Lakers. He would go on to be named an All-Star once and earned just under $100 million. He retired in 2004 after returning to the Lakers for one season.

Peja Stojakovic

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Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

After starting his career overseas, Peja Stojakovic was selected by the Sacramento Kings with the 14th pick of the 1996 NBA Draft. He would go on to finish his career with 13,647 points scored, 1,408 assists, and 3,782 rebounds.

Stojakovic won his only NBA championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. He was a three-time All-Star and two-time NBA Three-Point Contest champion. After winning the NBA Title, Stojakovic announced his retirement, citing ongoing neck problems.