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Class of their own

Best NBA players don't need much schooling

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  Two years of college ball were all Magic Johnson needed before becoming an NBA legend. Allsport

By Jacob Luft,

The NBA is built on players who have come out early for the draft.

Well, not just any players. Really, really good players. Guys like Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. (See chart, below).

Fifteen of the 24 participants in this weekend's All-Star Game either left college early or went to the NBA straight from high school.

Early entries into pro basketball are nothing new. Standout players have been forgoing college educations to begin NBA (or ABA) careers for decades. The only real difference is the dramatic increase in recent years.

Talent Pools
Schools with the most players leaving early for the NBA Draft since 1976. (Point your mouse over each number for the complete list).
School  No. 
LSU  10 
Michigan  8 
North Carolina  8 
Alabama  7 
UCLA  7 
Georgia  6 
DePaul  5 
Houston  5 
Kentucky  5 
Maryland  5 
Memphis State  5 
Syracuse  5 

In the past five drafts, 100 early entries have been drafted, including an all-time high 25 in 2000. Prior to 1996, the highest number taken was 13, in '95.

The key factor in the marked increase was the NBA's rookie pay scale introduced into the collective bargaining agreement signed in 1995. The rule gave guaranteed contracts to players taken in the first round but took away their free-agent rights until after their third or fourth seasons. Faced with an extra three years of waiting for the big-money, free-agent contracts, elite prospects have become more eager than ever to get their NBA careers started.

Here are some more nuggets on the topic:

• In the 2000 NBA Draft, nine of the first 10 players chosen and 18 of the 29 first-rounders were either underclassmen or high school players.

• In the past 23 years, there have been only two scoring champions who were four-year college players -- Alex English in 1983 and David Robinson in 1994.

• In the past 21 NBA Finals, the MVP award has gone to a player who came out early 15 times. Of course, Jordan accounts for six of those.

Early Birds
Of the past 22 NBA MVPs, 17 left college early or, in the case of Moses Malone, skipped NCAA hoops altogether.
Name, College  Yr.  Drafted  MVPs 

Michael Jordan with one of his five MVP trophies. Allsport
M. Malone  1974  ABA 
Erving, UMass  1971/So.  ABA 
Johnson, Mich. St.  1979/So.  1st 
Barkley, Auburn  1984/Jr.  5th 
Olajuwon, Houston  1984/Jr.  1st 
Jordan, UNC  1984/Jr.  3rd 
K. Malone, L. Tech  1985/Jr.  13th 
O'Neal, LSU  1992/Jr.  1st 

Related information
Stories's Complete NBA All-Star Game Coverage
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