The 10 best NBA players who did not go to college in the league right now

The 10 best NBA players who did not go to college in the league right now

Helix Odhiambo
updated at April 12, 2023 at 8:24 PM

The National Basketball Association has hosted many top stars who have entertained the masses with their exceptional talents. However, not all of them went to college before being drafted into the league. This article highlights some of the most famous NBA players who did not go to college but turned out great.

List of NBA players who did not go to college
Many basketball legends did not go to college when joining the league. Photo: Kevork Djansezian, Nathaniel S. Butler, Carlos Avila Gonzalez, Garrett W. Ellwood (modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

Before 2006, high school players were allowed to join the American basketball league teams even before enrolling in college. However, the high school to NBA rule changed after the minimum age draft eligibility was raised from 18 to 19 years. Currently, the league only accepts players who have at least spent one year after high school. In this case, they will be in the first years of their college.

How many NBA players never went to college?

Although the rule on eligibility in the league has changed multiple times over the years, the game continues to produce amazing talents. It could take us many days to list all the NBA players that never went to college. However, we have sampled the top 10 best who made history in the league.

Who was the last NBA player not to go to college?

Who was the last NBA player to not go to college?
Amir Johnson (15) of Team Ignite shoots free throws against the Westchester Knicks on 18 February 2021 at AdventHealth Arena in Orlando, Florida. Photo: Juan Ocampo
Source: Getty Images

Legendary NBA star Amir Johnson was the last one drafted into the NBA from high school at 18. Johnson was selected in the second round of the 2005 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons. He spent four years with the Detroit before joining the Toronto Raptors.

Johnson also represented the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers. After spending 14 years in the NBA, the power forward moved to the NBA G League in 2019.

Who played in the NBA without going to college?

NBA players who did not go to college
Kobe Bryant (24) of the Los Angeles Lakers backs in on LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half at Staples Center on 10 March 2016 in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Harry How
Source: Getty Images

Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and Tracy McGrady are among the best NBA players who never went to college. They were drafted into the league before 2006 when the rules changed. Below is a list of NBA players who did not go to college, including their achievements.


NBA Draft


Kobe Bryant


Los Angeles Lakers

Kevin Garnett


Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets

LeBron James


Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers

Tracy McGrady


Toronto Raptors, Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks

Jermaine O'Neil


Portland Trail Blazers, Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors

Rashard Lewis


Seattle SuperSonics, Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards, Miami Heat

Tyson Chandler


Chicago Bulls, New Orleans Hornets, Charlotte Bobcats, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, LA Lakers, Houston Rockets

Amar'e Stoudemire


Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat

Dwight Howard


Orlando Magic, LA Lakers, Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks Charlotte Hornets, Washington Wizards, Philadelphia 76ers

Andrew Bynum


Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers

10. Andrew Bynum

Born and raised in Plainsboro Township, New Jersey, Andrew Bynum attended three different high schools. He was drafted 10th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2005. Bynum spent seven seasons with the Lakers as a centre.


  • League Championship (2)
  • 2013 All-Star
  • 2005's McDonald's All-American

9. Dwight Howard

How many NBA players never went to college?
Dwight Howard of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates their victory over the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena on 10 April 2022 in Denver, Colorado. Photo: Jamie Schwaberow
Source: Getty Images

Dwight Howard was born on 8 December 1985 and is a centre for the Philadelphia 76ers. He studied at the Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy (SACA) in Atlanta, Georgia, before joining NBA's Orlando Magic in 2004.


  • League Championship
  • All-Star (8)
  • NBA First Team (5)
  • Defensive Player of the Year (3)
  • Youngest NBA player to reach 1,000 rebounds

8. Amar'e Stoudemire

High school to NBA rule change
Amar'e Stoudemire of Tri-State shoots a free throw against Triplets during week four of the BIG3 three-on-three basketball league at Barclays Center on 14 July 2019. Photo: Al Bello
Source: Getty Images

Stoudemire is an American-Israeli basketball legend and a former forward. He studied at three different High Schools before moving to the NBA in 2002. Amar'e got drafted by the Phoenix Suns in the 1st round as the 9th overall pick.


  • NBA Rookie of the Year (2003)
  • NBA All-Star (6)
  • Israeli Basketball Premier League (2)
  • Israeli Basketball Premier League Final MVP (2020)

7. Tyson Chandler

Who played in the NBA without going to college?
Tyson Chandler of the Houston Rockets arrives at the arena before facing the Indiana Pacers on 12 August 2020 in Orlando, Florida at AdventHealth Arena. Photo: David Dow
Source: Getty Images

Tyson was drafted second overall in 2001 by the LA Clippers. He was a star in high school, where he won Mr. Basketball twice at Dominguez High School in Compton, California. Chandler also featured for the Chicago Bulls, New Orleans, Charlotte, Dallas, New York, and the Phoenix Suns.


  • League Championship
  • NBA All-Star (2)
  • All-NBA Third Team
  • Defensive Player of the Year (2011-12)

6. Rashard Lewis

How many NBA players never went to college?
Rashard Lewis of the Pistons during practice at the Palais des sports Marcel-Cerdan on 17 January 2023 in Paris. Photo: Catherine Steenkeste
Source: Getty Images

Rashard studied high school at Alief Elsik, Houston, before attracting the interest of the Seattle SuperSonics, who picked him in 1998. He joined the team as a small and powerful forward, becoming a consistent scorer. However, he is famous for starring his time at the Washington Wizards.


  • League champion (2013)
  • Mr. Basketball USA (1998)
  • Mr. Basketball Texas (1998)
  • NBA All-Star (2)

5. Jermaine O'Neil

NBA players that never went to college
Jermaine O'Neal (L) of the Miami Heat laughing with Carmelo Anthony (R) of the Denver Nuggets on 3 December 2009 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. Photo: Garrett W. Ellwood
Source: Getty Images

O'Neil is one of the most successful center-power forwards in the American league. He was born on 13 October 1978 and studied at Eau Claire High School in Columbia, South Carolina. The legendary forward joined Portman Trail Blazers in 1996 after being selected in 1st round as the 7th pick.


  • Gold medal
  • All-Star (6)
  • NBA Third Team (2)
  • Most Improved Player (2002)
  • South Carolina's Mr. Basketball (1996)

4. Tracy McGrady

Who played in the NBA without going to college
NBA legend Tracy McGrady looks on during the LA Clippers game against the Houston Rockets on 13 November 2019 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. Photo: Chris Elise/NBAE
Source: Getty Images

McGrady was drafted in 1997 by the Toronto Raptors. He represented six more teams in the American League before heading to China. McGrady studied high school at Auburndale in Florida and Mount Zion Christian Academy in North Carolina.


  • All-Star Games (7)
  • NBA scoring champion (2)
  • NBA Most Improved Player (2001)
  • Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (2017)

3. LeBron James

How did LeBron skip college?
LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball during the game against the New York Knicks on 31 January 2023 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler
Source: Getty Images

LeBron James ranks among the greatest basketball players of all time alongside Michael Jordan. Interestingly, he did not enter the league from college. He is one of the current NBA players who did not go to college.

How did LeBron skip college?

According to sources, the Lakers star missed college because of financial reasons. He schooled in St. Vincent- St. Mary before being selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003 in the 1st round and 3rd overall.


LeBron James has won multiple awards in his career. He is one of the most successful basketball stars in the league. His accolades include:

  • League Champion (2)
  • NBA Finals MVP (2)
  • NBA Most Valuable Player (4)
  • All-Star (11)
  • Olympic Gold Medal (2)
  • USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (2012)
  • NBA Rookie of the Year (2004)

2. Kevin Garnett

Best NBA players who never went to college
Kevin Garnett of Minnesota Timberwolves walks off the court at the end of the game against the Sacramento Kings at the Target Center in Minneapolis, on 31 January 2007. Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez
Source: Getty Images

Kevin Garnett was born on 19 May 1976. He is one of the greatest basketball forwards, known for his defensive ability, versatility, and intensity. Kevin went to Mauldin High School in South Carolina and Farragut Academy in Chicago, Illinois. In 1995, he was picked by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 3rd round as 5th overall pick.


  • League Championship (2008)
  • Most Valuable Player (2004)
  • All-Star Game MVP (2003)
  • Defensive Player of the Year (2008)

1. Kobe Bryant

Did Kobe go to college?
Kobe Bryant (24) of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts against the Utah Jazz in their 2009 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on 21 April 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Kevork Djansezian
Source: Getty Images

Did Kobe go to college? Considered among the greatest basketball players in history, Kobe Bryant, unlike the current rookies, entered NBA straight from high school. He started his early career at his hometown school, Lower Merion, before transiting to NBA in 1996.

'Black Mamba' got selected by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1st round as the 13th overall pick. Sadly, he and his daughter died in a helicopter crash barely four years after his retirement.


  • NBA championships (5)
  • MVP award
  • All-Star Games (17)
  • All-NBA First Teams (11)
  • Olympic gold medals (2)

Other top NBA players who did not go to college include Rashard Lewis, Jalen Green, and Lamelo Ball. Meanwhile, basketball fans could see the return of High school to NBA rule. The National Basketball Association is working on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the National Basketball Players Association to return the NBA draft age limit to 18 years.

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Helix Odhiambo photo
Helix Odhiambo
Helix Odhiambo is an award-winning Kenyan journalist and content creator with over 6 years of experience. In 2016, he won the Goal Blaze Correspondent Award for young writers.