Undervalued as High Schoolers, Now Playing for a Title

By Mike Young on June 18, 2013 at 4:00p

The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs continue their back-and-forth battle for an NBA title – a six game series that will end this week, in Miami. 

Had the opportunity to take a headline literally, since age 16

Once the trophy is raised, some of these guys will shed a tear and consider how crazy it is that they've accomplished a childhood dream, considering how little fanfare they created coming out of high school. 

Certainly, there is a guy that has so deeply indulged us with his clearly undervalued importance to us peasants, since the day he was deified.

Others are a reminder that players develop at different ages, and can flourish once they’re placed in the right college environment.

Even in an era of widespread communication, those with the slightest hint of NBA talent can still slip through, unnoticed by major Division-1 college coaches. 

The following players were lightly recruited coming out of high school. Maybe, their championship mentality and determination were shaped by how they were perceived coming into college:

Tim Duncan, St. Dunstan's Episcopal High School, St. Croix, Virgin islands

Lost in what has become a hall-of-fame career is how Tim Duncan ended up here.

He was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands, not exactly the ideal place to groom a championship and Olympic medal winning basketball player. It is, however, a great place for someone with aspirations of making the Olympics as a swimmer.

A swimming phenom from the Virgin Islands. Tim Duncan.

That was Duncan’s first dream – to follow in his sister’s footsteps, aiming to make the 1992 games in Barcelona. If you think Michael Phelps is a genetic freak, imagine Tim Duncan in the water.

Unfortunately for a young Duncan, he had to put his swimming career on hold after Hurricane Hugo damaged much of his hometown’s training facilities. More importantly, his family was dealt a cruel blow when his single mother succumbed to breast cancer. 

With the help of his brother-in-law, Ricky Lowery, who played for Capital University in Bexley, a 14-year-old Duncan picked up a basketball.

Despite his impressive stature, he was obviously raw. Still, he caught the attention of Wake Forest coach Dave Odom, after going up against Alonzo Mourning, in an all-star game on Duncan’s native island.
"When I saw him play, I said to myself, 'Had he played in the continental U.S., there would be a holy war for the guy,’” Odom told the LA Times, in 1995.

According to that article, Duncan was ranked behind fellow Demon Deacon recruits  Makhtar N’Diaye and Ricardo Peral.

Both of them went on to have professional careers overseas, but probably won’t be viewed, historically, as the best players at their positions.

Kawhi Leonard, Martin Luther King High school, riverside, calif. 

Kawhi Leonard is another classic “late bloomer,” but never lacked in work ethic or talent.

In his freshman year of high school, Leonard missed basketball tryouts, and, instead, focused on playing football. He then shot up five inches and did not make the same mistake his sophomore year. That didn’t net him much in the way of scholarship offers, only attracting the interest of UC Davis and other Big West Conference schools.

He transferred high schools heading into his junior year, and, landed on San Diego State’s radar later that season. He would eventually grow to 6 feet 7 inches tall, but still didn’t get any attention from the major Pac-10 schools

Perhaps, schools (and, later on, NBA teams) thought of him as a “tweener” – too small to play power forward, but not athletic enough to play small forward. Guys like that tend to prove people wrong, all too often.

Late in his senior season, Rivals ranked him as a 4-star recruit, and placed him in the top 10 at his position.

Leonard decided to commit to the Aztecs, anyway.

"Everyone said, 'Why didn't you go to a bigger school, why didn't you go to the Pac-10?' " Leonard told the LA Times, in 2009. "If I waited it out, I probably would have got them. But I wanted to go with who loved me first."

With his outstanding perimeter defense, hustle and sold three-point shooting, he’s now a vital piece of a Spurs team that is a game away from an NBA title.

Dwyane wade, Harold L. Richards High School, Oak Lawn, Ill. 

Marquette University is now seen as a basketball powerhouse – a Big East school, who has failed to miss the tournament in the last eight seasons. But, before Dwyane Wade, the program made the tournament sporadically, grasping to reclaim the glory of the late 1970s.

Color photography didn't exist when Wade was in high school

How did they end up with such a transcendent talent? Well, to those who think athletes “ain't come to play school," Wade will tell you that it was his ACT scores that held him back.

A late growth spurt and dominant play in the basketball paradise Chicago got his name out there, but it was not enough to overcome his academic issues.

Despite that, former Marquette coach Tom Crean (give him credit for being a good recruiter) saw the limitless potential Wade had.

According to Wade’s autobiography, Crean told him, “"I want to be your first call because this is how important you are to Marquette and our future.”

That could be dismissed as typical coach-to-recruit rhetoric, but it’s not like Crean had much competition. Marquette, Illinois State and DePaul were the only schools to offer Wade a scholarship. Plus, for as good as he was out of high school, he still wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American worthy talent.

He went on to lead the Golden Eagles to a Final Four berth in 2003, and is now one of the top guards of his generation.

Norris cole, dunbar high school, dayton, Ohio

Former Ohio State guard Daequan Cook, in part, aided Norris Cole’s lack of recognition.

While at Dayton’s Dunbar High School, Cole played the role of a traditional point guard, mostly setting up, and playing off Cook, who led Dunbar to a Divison II state championship in 2006.

Gary Waters was the only college coach to believe in Cole

Many times, a guy with Cook’s ability to attract scouts will help to find undervalued talent. This wasn’t necessarily true, in Cole’s case. His only offer, heading into his senior year, was from NAIA’s Walsh University (a frequent Ohio State scrimmage opponent) in North Canton.

Cole is a year younger than Cook, and took control of the Dunbar squad, leading them to a second state title in 2007. Despite earning the MVP of the state tournament that year, Cole’s only offer came from Cleveland State.

Perhaps, other schools felt as though he was too undersized, and not enough of a natural scorer. He didn’t necessarily develop into one, until his sophomore year at Cleveland State.

That year, Cole finished second on the team in scoring, and lead the Vikings to an NCAA Tournament upset of fourth-seeded Wake Forest, with his 22-point performance.

Cole went on to put up huge numbers the rest of his career in the Horizon League, including a 41-point, 20-rebound, 9-assist game against Youngstown State, in his senior season.

Coincidentally, Cole’s Miami Heat and Cook’s Oklahoma City Thunder faced-off in the NBA Finals, last year.

So, to strictly college basketball fans: even if Ohio State comes away with a “disappointing” recruiting class – or if we laugh at the school up north’s incoming talent – it’s important to realize that championship talent can arrive when you least expect it.


Comments Show All Comments

Stinson's picture

Great read. Loved the Tim Duncan piece.

"The height of human desire is what wins, whether it's on Normandy Beach or in Ohio Stadium." -Wayne Woodrow Hayes

MN Buckeye's picture

Great to keep in mind the uncertainties involved with recruiting.  Who knows how guys will mature and grow and develop?  

LadyBuck's picture

Tim Duncan has been my favorite player since I was 9. Being born in San Antonio and having tons of family there, we got to watch all the championship games there, and, well if it weren't for the Spurs And Timmy, I wouldn't be the sports fan I am today. Go Spurs! Here's to hoping you get it done in 6 tonight.

Gobucks2204's picture

Did we have a chance at Tim Duncan when he came out of high school? I heard he was interested but since we already had Gerald Eaker we didn't need or want Duncan. Not sure of the validity of this though. Sad if it is true.

"Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends"

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Tim Duncan is a class act.  Living in Florida even many Heat fans have said it is hard to hate the Tim and the Spurs. 
Personally I will be rooting for them to win it tonight. 

Oldschoolbuck's picture

Definitely rooting for Spurs - especially Tim Duncan - to get another ring. Norris Coles, Jr., however, is a great story and a great young man, too. My wife's company does business at the hospital where Sr. works; she said he' a very nice man (he, of course, had to tell her who his son is!).
Love the kid, hate the Heat!

zbd's picture

[Ed- Yay, racism! Let's not do that again.]

BuckeyeVet's picture

Easy there. Nuance can be hard on the internet.

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."          - Groucho Marx

"The recipient of Oyster's ONLY down vote".

OSUs12-OH's picture

Wow...this is 2013 you know.  I think you're unfairly categorizing people or their races should reflect that time period...thank you.  Now if you're referring to Muslim Americans (or the ones who supposedly call themselves that, not real Muslims who don't believe in killing innocent Americans).  Well then I'd be all for it but our own countries races that have been here for a LONG time (participating in different sports like swimming, playing polo or yes even basketball) should be given the respect they deserve.  You make our country look like a bunch of ignorant ppl and I'm sure you were just joking, right?  

"I want a hungry team. I want a team that can't wait to get out there. I want an angry team! You're the Ohio State Buckeyes. You're an angry football team. You're a hungry football team and I'm proud to be your coach." UFM

Oldschoolbuck's picture

To quote CC: "C'mon man!!"

tdible2132's picture

This article is so true.  Recruiting gets way too much hype these days IMO, and while it is obviously a good tool to predict a prospects success, there are so many kids that fly under the radar and make it big due to their work ethic and heart among other things.  I too find myself getting worked up over recruiting sometimes, and articles like these are exactly what I need to put things back into perspective.

iball's picture

What about the Birdman?

“There’s one thing I have learned through all my adventures and conquests - it’s that some people are just wired for success. I had no choice when it came to being great - I just am great.” – Kenny Powers

iball's picture

Birdman - 1 year at blinn college then strait to the Chinese league

“There’s one thing I have learned through all my adventures and conquests - it’s that some people are just wired for success. I had no choice when it came to being great - I just am great.” – Kenny Powers

Mike Young's picture

Too many words needed to describe his story. Could write a book about it. Been through a lot. 

Having said that, let's trivialize his accomplishments by taking a look at what he looked like when he was younger:



chowoon97's picture

Great article. 11w is getting better and better.

unholy bucknut's picture

Wow Tim Duncan has some new found respect from me. I never knew all that about him. Inspirational. I love how he has never been a dirty player, or taken flops.

OSUs12-OH's picture

Love the article and espeically the piece on Duncan as some have so nicely said.  He's a great player and I personally think they beat the Heat in 7.  Even though I'd like to see LeBron win one more;-)

"I want a hungry team. I want a team that can't wait to get out there. I want an angry team! You're the Ohio State Buckeyes. You're an angry football team. You're a hungry football team and I'm proud to be your coach." UFM