Bryce Harper made news last week when the 16-year-old from Las Vegas became the first high school baseball player to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 20 years. Baseball’s Chosen One, who is described as “the most exciting prodigy since LeBron,” hits 570-foot home runs, throws 96 mph, and has a number of impressive highlight videos on YouTube. Will he live up to the hype? Only time will tell. Some of the previous high school athletes to grace the cover of SI would become fixtures in the magazine for years to come; for others, the fame was fleeting.
The Cover: That’s not Godzilla, it’s larger than life Lincoln High School phenom Sebastian Telfair. Sports Illustrated’s editors answer their own question: “Can a 6-foot high school point guard from Brooklyn make the leap to the NBA? Yes, he can.”
The Hype: The Dallas Morning News profiled Telfair as a seventh-grader and his legend only grew from there. Nicknamed Bassy, Telfair was billed as the next in a long line of great New York point guards, which included Stephon Marbury, Telfair’s cousin. The hype surrounding Telfair, who was still weighing the possibility of playing for head coach Rick Pitino at Louisville, was dwarfed only by that of LeBron James, who appeared on the cover of SI for the first time two years earlier.
The Aftermath: After Telfair decided to turn pro, the Portland Trail Blazers selected him with the 13th overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. He started 26 games and averaged 6.8 points and 3.3 assists as a rookie, but Portland stumbled to its worst record since 1975. Telfair was traded to Boston before the 2006-07 season and has spent the last two seasons in Minnesota. Off the court, Telfair was charged with felony possession of a weapon after a traffic stop in 2007, pleaded guilty, and served a three-game suspension. His scoring record at Lincoln was broken by Lance Stephenson earlier this year.
The Cover: Sporting his St. Vincent-St. Mary High School jersey and palming a gold-colored basketball, LeBron “The Chosen One” James’ first appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated included this proclamation: “High school junior LeBron James would be an NBA lottery pick right now.”
The Hype: James became the first sophomore to win Ohio’s Mr. Basketball award and St. Vincent-St. Mary moved their home games to the University of Akron’s arena to accommodate the incredible demand for tickets to see James play. Grant Wahl’s feature story opens with a description of a meeting between Michael Jordan and James, then a high school junior, in the tunnel of Cleveland’s Gund Arena in January 2002. The two shook hands moments after Jordan, who was in the twilight of his career with the Washington Wizards, hit a buzzer-beater to beat the Cavs, and Wahl compares the vibe of that greeting to the photograph of a teenaged Bill Clinton meeting JFK. The previous summer, Jordan had invited James to play in his top-secret workouts in Chicago, a clear indication that James was being groomed as Jordan’s Air Apparent. In short, the hype was ginormous.
The Aftermath: After being drafted No. 1 by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003, James has somehow walked, er, crab-dribbled, the talk. While making witnesses of us all, he has carried Cleveland to the brink of the NBA Finals in back-to-back seasons (and led the Cavs to the Finals in 2007). He has appeared on eight more SI covers and is the player against whom future phenoms will be compared for years to come.
The Cover: The tattooed Parker is pictured leaning against a wall, a light illuminating the profile of his face. The text reads: “Last year Richie Parker was convicted of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl. Last week he received a college basketball scholarship. A modern morality tale.”
The Hype: Before he was charged with sexual assault, the 6-foot-5 Parker had a reputation as being a good kid. He didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, and didn’t curse, according to the assistant principal at Manhattan Center High School, where Parker was a rising star and on the recruiting radar of several prominent schools. Ellen Scheinbach told SI’s Gary Smith that the only place she had seen Parker exert his will on anyone was on the basketball court, where his exploits made him one of the game’s top 50 high school seniors in 1995.
The Aftermath: Schools that had been fawning over Parker before the incident backed off in fear of the media attention his presence on campus would attract. After playing one year at an Arizona junior college, Parker transferred to Long Island University and graduated in May 2000. He played briefly for the Atlantic City Seagulls of the USBL and appeared in a series of Jordan Brand commercials directed by Spike Lee, including one in which he guards Ray Allen. In 2002, Parker got involved with the Stay Strong Foundation, a mentoring program for troubled New York City kids. As of 2007, he could still be found playing basketball in New York’s famed Rucker Park.
The Cover: The baby-faced Big Ticket is stylin’ in his windbreaker and black Boss jeans, posing in front of, well, we’re not really sure. The cover reads: “Three weeks ago Kevin Garnett went to his high school prom. Next week he’ll be a top pick in the NBA draft.”
The Hype: At 19 years old, the 6-foot-11 Garnett represented a player that NBA executives could build around for years to come. He also represented a player who could turn out to be a colossal bust, as few American-born players had made the successful jump from high school to the NBA. As a senior, Garnett averaged 26 points, 18 rebounds, seven assists, and six blocks for Farragut Career Academy in Chicago. He dominated high school all-star camps and wowed scouts at a predraft tryout camp open to representatives from the 13 teams in the NBA draft lottery. “He’s a genetic freak,” Detroit Pistons head coach Doug Collins said at the time. “All the great ones are.”
The Aftermath: Garnett was more ready than not. The Minnesota Timberwolves selected him with the fifth pick of the 1995 NBA Draft. Garnett teamed with point guard Stephon Marbury during his early years in Minnesota and the duo helped the Wolves clinch their first playoff berth in 1997. In 2004, Garnett led Minnesota to the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to the Lakers. He was traded to the Boston Celtics before the 2007 season and teamed with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to win his first NBA title the following June.
The Cover: SI couldn’t have picked a cheesier headline for its cover featuring Jon Peters, the “Texas high school pitching phenom” with the funny-looking delivery who ran his record to 51-0.
The Hype: Peters, a senior at Brenham (Texas) High School when he appeared on the cover, was catapulted into the national spotlight after he set the national high school baseball record of 34 consecutive wins as a junior. More than 1,500 people watched Peters’ record-setting win, the largest crowd to see a game in Brenham since the school hosted Nolan Ryan’s high school team in 1965. Peters was featured on ABC’s Wide World of Sports and in USA Today.
The Aftermath: The SI Cover Jinx struck in a major way. Not only would Peters lose the first game of his high school career shortly after appearing on the cover (he finished 54-1), but he would also blow out his arm. “I just had bad mechanics,” Peters told SI in 1997. Peters had undergone surgery as a sophomore, the first in a series of arm troubles for the right-hander. Peters attended Texas A&M, but injuries kept him out of action. He transferred to Blinn College in Brenham, where he went 1-1 in 1991, but tore his rotator cuff in the spring of 1992 and never pitched again. Peters served as an undergraduate assistant for the Aggies while earning a degree in kinesiology, added a master’s degree in kinesiology from Sam Houston State, and joined his former high school coach as an assistant coach at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. Peters would leave coaching to pursue a doctorate in pedagogy at Louisiana State.
The Cover: Phillips, 14, is dubbed “The New Mary Lou,” as in Retton, the greatest female American gymnast of her era.
The Hype: As a 13-year-old, Phillips, from Baton Rouge, defeated veteran gymnasts from 19 countries to win the American Cup and also won the national junior title under the guidance of coach Bela Karolyi. University of Utah women’s gymnastics coach Greg Marsden, whose teams had won six straight national titles, called Phillips, without question, the most promising American gymnast. “She’ll be at her peak in 1988,” Marsden said, referring to the Seoul Olympics.
The Aftermath: While Phillips won the U.S. all-around title in 1987, she finished 45th at worlds that year, as she struggled to adjust to a growth spurt. She finished eighth at the U.S. Olympic trials and made the Olympic team as a second alternate, but did not compete. Phillips attended LSU on a cheerleading scholarship before moving to New York City to launch an acting career, which has included roles in several commercials and films. Phillips was elected into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2006.
The Cover: The subheadline accompanying the image of “The Can’t-Miss Kid” performing a hockey stop says it all. “Here’s Bobby Carpenter. He’s 17 and hails from Peabody, Mass. NHL scouts say he’s the best U.S. prospect they’ve seen. Ever.”
The Hype: Carpenter’s skills were compared to those of Wayne Gretzky. At 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, NHL scouts raved about his size for his age and the fact that he was a solid defensive forward. “Put him in a skating game and he’ll skate; put him in a hitting game and he’ll hit,” one scout said. “Most players his age can either skate like mad or shoot like mad. He just does everything well.” In other words, Carpenter was the 1981 equivalent of Alex Ovechkin.
The Aftermath: Like Ovechkin would be more than 23 years later, Carpenter was drafted by the Washington Capitals with the third pick of the 1981 NHL draft. Carpenter appeared poised for greatness after tallying three goals and three assists in his first six regular season games. In his fourth year with the Capitals, he became the first U.S.-born player to score 50 goals in a season with 53, to go along with 42 assists. But Carpenter would never again notch more than 27 goals in a season and was traded to the New York Rangers two years later. Carpenter played in 1,178 games with five different teams over 18 seasons, finishing with 320 goals and 408 assists. He played the final six years of his career with the New Jersey Devils, winning a Stanley Cup in 1995, before going into coaching. Carpenter is now the Director of Program Development for the Valley Jr. Warriors of the Eastern Junior Hockey League.
The Cover: Standing in the center of a two-lane highway, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Hardy is identified, quite simply, as “Best Schoolboy Athlete.”
The Hype: Hardy was a three-sport star at Utah’s Bingham High School. On the baseball diamond, he was a power-hitting catcher. On the basketball court, he was a versatile forward. On the gridiron, he was a cannon-armed quarterback. Everywhere around town, he was idolized, sometimes to a sickening degree. “Someone once broke into my car and stole my letter jacket,” Hardy told SI in 1998. “They didn’t bother with my tape deck or my date’s purse.”
The Aftermath: Eager to escape the attention in Utah, Hardy attended Arizona State, where he was converted to tight end. He was selected in the ninth round of the 1978 draft by the Miami Dolphins and carved out a respectable NFL career from 1978-1989. Hardy finished with 256 catches for 2,455 yards and 25 touchdowns, and also started in two Super Bowls. Hardy has since coached in the Arena Football League and at Florida International University. In a 2008 interview with the Arizona Republic, Hardy said he was managing a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. As for the SI cover that made him famous, he said, “I still get people sending me copies of it to sign. I sign it and send it back. My parents have a copy. My kids have copies. They’re lying around somewhere.”
The Cover: Just look at Mike Peterson spin that basketball. Just look at that “Kansas Schoolboy Marvel.”
The Hype: The story of Peterson’s unlikely appearance on the cover of SI begins with a letter penned by a barber in his hometown of Yates Center, Kansas, the Hay Capital of the World. As recounted by SI writer William Johnson, the barber described Peterson as a “once in a lifetime athlete,” who starred in football, baseball, and basketball. For his part, Johnson wasn’t hyping Peterson as the greatest American high school athlete, but rather as the subject for an essay on the prototypical high school hero in Small-town, U.S.A.
The Aftermath: In 1998, SI caught up with Peterson, then 44. Despite his successes in high school, Peterson wasn’t recruited by major colleges. He played basketball and baseball at Kansas State Teachers College, and, after a short stint with an independent league baseball team in 1976, held jobs in a school, department store, and warehouse. Peterson, who was married with four children by then, recalled his cover boy status as a blessing and a curse. “The same week the article came out I was at a camp in Colorado, and everyone there wanted to play me one-on-one in basketball,” Peterson told Jeff Pearlman. “If they did well, they asked why they weren’t on the cover. It was as if I was supposed to be the world’s greatest athlete.”
The Cover: Towering above the competition, Mansfield, Pennsylvania’s Tom McMillen is “The Best High School Player in America.”
The Hype: McMillen grew up in the shadow of his brother, Jay, who was heavily recruited as one of the top high school basketball prospects in the country in 1963, attended Maryland, and drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers. Having grown to 6-foot-11 by the time he was a senior in high school, Tom McMillen wasn’t accustomed to living in anyone’s shadow. Now, recruiters were after him, with scouts comparing him to Lew Alcindor and Bill Bradley. McMillen had his eyes set on being a doctor and put a lot of thought into where he wanted to play college ball. A lot of thought. “I read National Review and I think there are some good ideas in there, but I wouldn’t want to be called a conservative,” McMillen told SI. “I don’t want people to think I’m against progress. I can’t see having my name associated with a place like Alabama, where they really haven’t faced up to-problems, or a school like Georgia in a state where Governor Maddox actually seems to be against progress.”
The Aftermath: McMillen attended Maryland, choosing Lefty Driesell and the Terps over the opportunity to play for head coach Dean Smith at North Carolina. He graduated in 1974 and was drafted by the Buffalo Braves. McMillen would play for three more teams, never averaging more than 10 points or 6 rebounds per game, before retiring in 1986 to pursue a political career. That led to his six-year stint as representative for the 4th congressional district of Maryland.
The Cover: Never mind the haircut. Ignore the jacket. Rick Mount, photographed in front of a barn in Boone County, Indiana, is the “Brightest Star in High School Basketball.”
The Hype: Mount, who drew comparisons to Oscar Robertson, was nicknamed The Rocket at Lebanon High School, where he averaged more than 33 points per game as a junior and senior and once scored 57 points in a game at famed Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The incomparable Frank DeFord, who wrote the feature story that accompanied the classic cover shot of Mount, described his subject as follows: “He has the moves of a cat…the eyes of a hawk, the presence of a king and he has visions of UCLA or Cincinnati or Miami or other faraway places.” Mount was the first high school team athlete to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated and was featured in the magazine’s Faces in the Crowd section in 1965 after he surpassed Robertson’s state high school scoring record.
The Aftermath: Mount decided to stay close to home and attend Purdue, where he averaged 32.3 points per game in his career, was a two-time First Team All-America selection, and was named Big 10 Player of the Year as a senior with the Boilermakers. As a junior, he hit the game-winning shot in the Final Four to lift Purdue to a win over Marquette; UCLA ended the Boilermakers’ title hopes in the championship game. Mount was drafted first overall by the Indiana Pacers of the ABA and played five years in the league, earning less than $250,000 during that time according to a 2001 SI article. Mount, who was good but not great as a pro, retired after the 1974-75 season and returned to Lebanon. In recent years, he has run a number of shooting camps throughout the Midwest.
Sports Illustrated cover images courtesy of the SI Vault.
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