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Picking up the pieces of high schoolers' shattered NBA dreams

As "Hoop Dreams" - the brilliant documentary focusing on the separate but similar sagas of two aspiring high-school ballers - draws to a close, William Gates, whose hardcourt heroics earned him a scholarship to Marquette, leaves the audience to ponder these final words: "If I don't make it, don't forget about me."

I wonder if Korleone Young was listening. As I scanned the NBA waiver wire a couple of weeks back, something struck me: not that Lari Ketner hooked on with a club, or that Jack Haley finally called it quits. No, what caught my eye probably grabbed about as little national attention as a Motley Crue reunion: the Philadelphia 76ers cut Korleone Young.

Now who in the world, you might ask, is this Korleone Young kid? And what exactly is his story? And even if his tale is a compelling one, why should anyone take a special interest in another teenybopper turned millionaire who may no longer have a job but still has a Jaguar in his garage?

I offer a remorseful reply. That thud you hear is the sound of Young's NBA career crashing to a melodramatic conclusion. But beneath the fine print adding Young's name to the list of unemployed Americans, lies the latest in a long line of budding careers and lives tragically ruined by the NBA's siren-like call.

As a senior just two years ago at Hargrave Military Academy, Young was a sure-fire superstar who had colleges dishing out business cards faster than your average defense attorney. McDonald's All-American? Check. 1997-98 ESPN national high school player of the year? Yep. Parade All-American? Uh-huh.

Blessed with helicopter-like hops, the kid could springboard over any defender ... or tall building for that matter, dominate in the paint, and run like a gazelle.

But as the accolades poured in, the Dick Vitales screamed his name at a deafening decibel level and the coaches began their incessant wooing, Young forgot something very important about himself: He was 18 years old.

Young passed on the chance to be the biggest man on any college campus for a little NBA glitz and a whole lot of glamour. If only the pride of Wichita, Kan., knew how dangerous being a boy in a man's world could be.

At the time, it must have seemed like the right decision: Midterm exams and meal plans were replaced by staggering amounts of money, not to mention unlimited perks and prestige.

But a couple of weeks ago, the perks and prestige ended. With them tumbled the infamous, if not inglorious, NBA career of one Korleone Young, whose one-year reign of little terror produced career-highs of five points and two rebounds at the end of the Detroit Pistons bench - without a college degree to fall back on.

And just days after the Hargrave hang-glider's NBA future went up in smoke, he is now all but forgotten.

I wish I could say that Young's tale is an isolated case. Unfortunately, I can't.

Earlier this week, Dallas Mavericks forward Leon Smith, who vaulted directly from Martin Luther King High School to the big show was found passed out with 250 aspirin in his system and green war paint smeared across his face.

Smith is 19. He has been a ward of the state of Illinois since he was five. For the past 14 years, Smith has been estranged from his parents, with a family life rivaling a Dennis Rodman marriage in stability. He doesn't have a diploma either.

Neither does Taj "Red" McDavid, whose name wasn't even among the top 100 high school prospects when in 1996 he shockingly threw his name in the NBA pot. The phone didn't ring, and Red returned to tiny Williamston, S.C., now without his college eligibility, to begin the arduous process of fighting the NCAA to get it back.

McDavid still has visions of Duncan and Iverson dancing in his head, but the phone still hasn't rung.

It may sound like I'm reintroducing the age-old argument against high school players making the leap to the NBA. I'm not. Kevin Garnett did it and succeeded. So did Kobe Bryant. If you can do it, then do it. I'm not stopping you.

I'm worried about the kids who couldn't - the Youngs, McDavids and soon-to-be Smiths. Where do they go from here? At this point, with their professional futures tenuous if not over completely, who cares enough to give a damn? It's the fickle nature of professional sports: stop skywalking and we stop caring, just like Gates once told us on the big screen.

Well William, you were right. Who is going to remember Korleone Young now that he's gone?


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