A record six high school players declared themselves eligible for the June 27 NBA draft (page 78). Among their recent role models who have jumped directly from 12th grade to the league are Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tracy McGrady. With all mat success, it's easy to question why NBA commissioner David Stern last week came out so strongly for a minimum-age requirement for the draft. (In the past he's mentioned 20.) "At this point in the development of our sport," said Stern, "[we need] something that discourages players from coming out of high school."
It's easier to understand Stern once you know the story of Taj McDavid, the only high school player with reasonable credentials to have declared for the draft and not been picked. The 1995-96 South Carolina Class AA Player of me Year, McDavid averaged 26 points and 13 rebounds as a senior at Palmetto High in Williamston. With prodding from his family, the 6'6" swingman followed the lead of fellow '96 grad Bryant and applied for the draft.
Palmetto coach Lawton Williams says McDavid was a gifted athlete with a dubious work ethic who thrived against mediocre competition. College recruiters were turned off by his poor grades, which deteriorated further after he committed to the draft. McDavid allowed an impractical dream to lure him into a position where he felt he had no choice but to pursue it. NBA scouts realized this, and on draft night, McDavid heard the names of Bryant and 57 others but never his own.
McDavid, now 24, turned down all interview requests and keeps an unlisted phone number. In recent years he's taken some classes at Anderson ( S.C.) College, and a source close to him says he's given up any hope of playing pro hoops. "He's a pretty good kid who might have been saved from himself by an NBA minimum-age limit," says Williams. "I feel sorry for him the way I would someone who bought a Maserati and drove it into a telephone pole because he didn't know how to shift the gears."