Where Are They Now: Child Athlete Phenoms

Brian MaziqueCorrespondent IIINovember 6, 2012

Where Are They Now: Child Athlete Phenoms

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    Most sports fans know the young man on the left immediately, but you'd have to be a basketball savant, or a Chicago high school hoops fan during the 1990s to know the youngster on the right.

    I'm a little bit of both, so I'll tell you, that is Ronnie Fields.

    The name isn't likely to ring a bell if you weren't already aware of him. He and Kevin Garnett, who is obviously pictured on the left, teamed up to make a devastating prep school combination at Farragut Academy in the mid-1990s.

    Garnett is who he is, but what ever happened to Fields?

    That's a question we often ask about child sports phenoms. It usually takes a ton of digging to find the answers. I've done that requisite digging, and even if I didn't have my own personal sports memories regarding Fields, I could now answer the proverbial question.

    In this slideshow, I'll tell you where Fields and 19 other child sports phenoms are now.

    Some of them you know very well, some not at all. I figured I'd try to shed some light on a group of athletes whose level of notoriety and time of relevance varies.

    There are a couple notable child phenoms I didn't include, but to be all inclusive, this piece could have been at least 100 slides.

    This is designed to be a collection of inspiring, heart-wrenching and important stories about kids the sports world called special.

Freddy Adu

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    As a Ghanaian-American teen, Freddy Adu was a special talent on the pitch. He grew up in Tema, Ghana, and at the age of six he was playing football against much older kids and grown men.

    When he was eight years old his mother won a green card lottery that allowed the family to move to the United States. The family settled in Potomac, Maryland, and Adu began attending The Heights School.

    Adu was an instant sensation.

    His football skills were far beyond those of kids his age—especially in the United States—and he led his varsity team to a state championship at the age of 12 after skipping two grades.

    He was 5'7" and 140 pounds then, sharp in the classroom and wowing people with his speed and ball-handling on the soccer field.

    Adu went on to star in an under-14 international tournament, and there he became a nationally known phenom. He gained the attention of Major League Soccer, and by the time he was 14 years old, he had signed to play professionally.

    He became the youngest American athlete to sign a major professional sports contract in 100 years, per ESPN. The deal was a four-year contract for $500,000 per year, with a two-year option, per Chicago Tribune.

    Adu reportedly received a much richer offer from Manchester United, but chose to play in the MLS instead because of the close proximity to home, and to avoid the apprenticeship program, per Sports Illustrated.

    How have things gone for Adu?

    It's hard to call him a bust.

    At the age of 23, he's still an active player in the MLS, but the Philadelphia Union are currently mulling over whether they should bring Adu back for another season, per Philly.com.

    In his career, he has bounced around to several clubs all over Europe and in the MLS. Though he's cashed in on several endorsements, Adu has never come close to the level of stardom many believed he was capable of.

Ronnie Fields

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    I could re-hash the facts and intriguing story covered in the lengthy trailer about Ronnie Fields' life, but instead I'll share some personal experiences.

    I saw him play in person on two occasions. In my first encounter, my seat was an unpleasant one. Not because it was far away from the action. As a matter of fact, I was a bit too close. I watched Fields throw down five dunks on my Hyde Park Indians in the first half of a blowout loss.

    The final score is irrelevant, all that matters is that it wasn't a close game. It was 1993, I was a senior and Fields was a phenomenal freshman.

    I had heard about the high-flyer from the papers and around the city, but seeing him soar through the air firsthand put things into perspective. To this day, I've never seen a player that age, with such explosive hops and body control.

    The second time I saw him was in 1995. It was the Chicago Public League playoffs, and by this time Kevin Garnett had joined him at Farragut Academy. They defeated a game, but overmatched Carver High School team 71-62

    I came to the game to see this kid (Garnett) that was talking about jumping from high school to the NBA. KG didn't disappoint, he had 32 points, 13 rebounds, six blocks and five steals. He was truly a man among boys.

    I knew KG would be a success when I saw him play that weekend.

    However, Fields didn't disappoint. He had 22 points, but he had really become the Robin to KG's Batman.

    I didn't think jumping to the NBA was a good idea for Fields because he was only 6'3", and he didn't have a great jump shot. But, I thought, this guy is going to be a terror in college. As the video explains, that didn't work out too well.

    Ronnie is now 35 years old. He's played professionally for 15 years across the globe, but never in the NBA. His story is a bittersweet one.

    No, he never achieved the superstardom he was talented enough to attain, but he also never got into some of the more serious issues wealth would have exposed him to.

    No matter how hard things are to take, everything happens for a reason.

Jennifer Capriati

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    You wouldn't know Jennifer Capriati is still struggling with personal issues when you look at her at the 2012 U.S. Open. She's still a cutie, but behind the beauty is a roller coaster history of triumph and trouble.

    Capriati burst on the tennis scene as a 14-year old phenom in 1990. I loved her because we were about the same age, and like I said, I thought she was kind of hot. At the time, I had no idea she'd stumble over drug problems and legal issues in the coming years.

    She reached a top-four ranking in the world when she was 16 years old, and the pressure buckled her. She became addicted to drugs and was admitted into a drug rehab center in 1994, per Seattle Times.

    Capriati revived her career in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She won the Australian Open in 2001 and 2002, and the French Open in 2001.

    However, her issues with drugs, and now depression, persisted.

    In 2010, Capriati reportedly tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of prescription drugs. She was depressed and apparently distraught over a her ex-porn star boyfriend's decision to return to the adult films industry, per The Daily Mail.

    According to ESPN, her appearance at her Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2012 was not a given. But, I'm glad she attended. Here's to hoping that a childhood crush can find stability and peace.

Danny Almonte

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    You may know the story, but you may have forgotten the name Danny Almonte.

    He was the left-handed teenage fireballer that took the little league world by storm with 70 mile per hour heat that baffled 12-year olds.

    Almonte was simply on a different level—literally. Check out this grainy highlight reel from 2001:

     

    He was 14 years old competing illegally against kids two years his junior because of a falsified birth certificate. It was a scandal that received national attention. Almonte was born in the Dominican Republic, but his family lived in New York. 

    It is implied in this USA Today article that his birth records were altered by his father, and team founder Rolando Paulino. Both men were barred from New York Little League for life, and Almonte's name was stained forever.

    He kept playing baseball at a relatively high level, though. He helped lead James Monroe High School to a state championship. In college he was an All-American for tiny Western Oklahoma State in 2009.

    In an odd irony, it is believed he went undrafted by the majors because at 22 years old, he was considered too old to be a top prospect.

    Some scouts consider it strange that Almonte never got a real shot to play in the majors. One unnamed American League scout told the New York Post:

    "I expected to see him one day at the major-league level. When I see him working here for Monroe, that’s a big surprise. I saw this guy good, and I thought he had a chance to get better."

    Age has been a consistently prominent factor in Almonte's life. When he was 19 years old he grabbed headlines by marrying a 30-year-old woman named Rosy Perdomo. The two have since divorced.

    Now Almonte is 25 years old and an assistant coach at James Monroe High School. He obviously never achieved the stardom he could have been headed for, but it certainly seems he was dealt multiple raw deals.

Todd Van Poppel

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    In 1990, Todd Van Poppel was the newest version of the can't-miss baseball pitching prospect. The fireballing right-hander from Hinsdale, Illinois, received calls from all types of baseball dignitaries when he was a senior in high school, per Sports Illustrated.

    What made Van Poppel different from other prep star pitchers was his desire to go to college before starting a major league career. The kid they called the next Nolan Ryan wanted to hit the books before he hit a major league mound.

    Per ESPN, Van Poppel's contract demands and talk of wanting to go to college scared 13 major league teams off. He was taken 14th overall in the 1990 draft by the Oakland A's.

    Was his stance and insistence on playing college baseball a ploy created by his agent, Scot Boras, and himself? Who knows for sure, but Van Poppel never pitched an inning in college.

    He didn't pitch very many good innings in the majors, either.

    In 11 major league seasons, Van Poppel had a record of 40-52 with a career ERA of 5.58.

    Wow, and Danny Almonte couldn't even get a shot?

    The Atlanta Braves had the top pick in 1990, but Van Poppel and Boras advised the Braves not to draft him. They obeyed and took a kid named Chipper Jones instead. I'd say it worked out for the Braves.

    Van Poppel is now 40 years of age living in Denton, Texas. He's part-owner of a pest control company, per Fox Sports Southwest.

    The article quotes Van Poppel summing up his career: 

    I got to meet some of the old-time guys from the Reds. I got to meet some of the old time players from the A's and some of the older players from the Cubs, some really great ballplayers. It was great. I enjoyed my whole career. I cannot complain one bit about it.

Marcus Dupree

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    When your college recruitment is the subject of a book called The Courting of Marcus Dupree, you know you were something special as a high school player.

    In contrast, when there's a documentary about your career called The Best That Never Was, that's an indication things didn't exactly go as planned.

    Dupree was one of the most ballyhooed high school football players in history. The youngster from Philadelphia, Mississippi, was 6'2", 235 pounds of power, speed and acceleration. Take a look at the video above and tell me he doesn't look like a bigger, and possibly faster version of Eric Dickerson.

    Dickerson is one of the NFL's all-time great rushers, but unfortunately, Dupree never reached anywhere near that level of accomplishment.

    According to The Oklahoma Daily, Dupree was bench-pressing 400 pounds 10 times in high school workouts, and the commentators in the video make reference to his 4.3 second 40-time.

    That is a freakish athlete in the year 2012. Needless to say, he was special back in 1981.

    Though many schools gave chase, Dupree chose the University of Oklahoma. He was amazing as a freshman back. He led the Sooners in rushing—a first for a freshman in school history—with 1,144 yards despite starting only seven games.

    A spat with head coach Barry Switzer ultimately led to Dupree leaving the Sooners and refusing to return. This changed what could have been a storied football career to the stuff that ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries are made of.

    Dupree enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi, but because of transfer rules he couldn't play for a season. This was too much for him, and he decided to enter the USFL draft. The NFL wasn't an option because he had only been in college for two years.

    He was nothing like the player that dominated in Norman; something was missing.

    He did ultimately make it to the NFL in 1986. Dupree played in 15 games total in his career with the Los Angeles Rams, and injuries forced him to retire in 1991 at the age of 27.

    Dupree is now 48 years old, and as of 2011, he was the owner of The New Mid-South pro wrestling organization, per AOL News. He doesn't appear as distraught as many others are about his career.

    Barry Switzer wrote in his autobiography, "Damn you, Marcus. You could have been the greatest to ever play the game."

    Dupree said this to The Oklahoma Daily:

    I supervise about 200 people. My grandson is playing football. And life is good.

    In the end, that's all that matters.

Monica Seles

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    Have you ever seen something on television that made you want to teleport to that location, and beat the hell out of someone?

    If so, I was you in that instance on April 30, 1993.

    That's the day I saw Gunter Parche stab Monica Seles in the back with a boning knife during an intermission of her match against Magdalena Maleeva in Hamburg. I was appalled and angered all at once. Here's the irritating, but relevant video:

     

    I wondered how anyone was allowed to get that close to an athlete while competing. Parche was a deranged fan of Seles' rival Steffi Graf, but who knows what his motivation to attack a teenage girl truly was.

    Amazingly he never did time for his crime. He was sentenced to two years probation because of his unstable mental state, per BBC UK.

    Meanwhile, he delayed and forever altered the life and career of Seles. She was just 19 when she was attacked. Seles had already reached the No. 1 world ranking, and she had won eight grand slam tournaments.

    Having turned pro at 16, Seles was sweeping through women's tennis.

    Unfortunately, the attack took a lot away from her. She didn't play a professional match for two years, and she only won one other grand slam title upon her return to the game.

    She's 38 years old now and seemingly at peace. She wrote her autobiography entitled Getting A Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self in which she discusses the depression, food addiction and other issues that followed the bizarre incident.

    Even with the decline in play, Seles was far from a bust.

    She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2009, but it's hard not to wonder how much more she could have accomplished.

    Is it obvious I have a soft spot for female tennis stars from the 1990s?

Brien Taylor

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    It's obvious from the feature picture that things haven't gone well for this one-time amateur phenom.

    Taylor was selected No. 1 overall in the 1991 Major League Baseball draft, yet he is one of two top overall selections to never reach the major leagues.

    What happened?

    After wowing scouts with tremendous velocity and strikeout ability, Taylor took part in an incident that changed his life and career.

    After starring at East Carteret High School in Beaufort, North Carolina, and in the lower levels of the New York Yankees organization, Taylor seemed headed for stardom. 

    On December 18, 1993 he went to the trailer home of another North Carolina man that had been in a scuffle with his younger brother. Taylor confronted the man, a fight ensued, and during the altercation he suffered a serious shoulder injury.

    Specifically, it was a torn capsule and torn labrum that befell Taylor. Dr. Frank Jobe called it the worst such injury he'd ever seen, per Fox News. Taylor would never be the same.

    He lost much of his velocity after that. He had struggled a bit with his control already, but after the injury his command got even worse. The Yankees released him in 1999, and by the year 2000, Taylor was out of baseball.

    He briefly went to work as a UPS handler, and a beer distributor. Taylor was making a meager financial living—especially compared to the riches he seemed destined for as a major-leaguer.

    Things took a turn for the worse in October of 2011.

    Taylor was arrested for drug trafficking and as of June 2012, he was still incarcerated on these charges, per ESPN.

Sean Miller

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    Sean Miller is doing just fine.

    With so many sad stories about child athletes, it's nice to be able to write that. Before Miller became the head basketball coach for the University of Arizona, he was a dribbling phenom when he was a pre-teen.

    Taking a look at the video above is proof of just how skilled Miller was. He appeared on the TV Show That's Incredible and the Johnny Carson Show to demonstrate his talents, per ESPN.

    Fortunately, Miller's development wasn't ruined by fame, unfortunate happenstance, negligent parents or poor decisions. Although he was obviously an awesome ball-handler, Miller wasn't an NBA talent. He played four solid, but unspectacular years at Pittsburgh University.

    He assisted on one of the most memorable dunks in college basketball history. Take a look at this famous throw-down from Jerome Lane:

     

    Miller never played in the NBA, but at 43 years old he's compiled a 188-82 win-loss record as a head coach. Thankfully, this is a success story.

Rick Mount

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    Rick Mount was considered a high school basketball prodigy more than 40 years before LeBron James was the "Chosen One".

    Mount's prep accomplishments are indeed impressive.

    He scored 2,595 points for Lebanon High School, and he became the first male high school team athlete to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Many schools wanted Mount to come play for them, but the Purdue Boilermakers successfully recruited the kid from the Hoosier state.

    Mount would have an amazing collegiate career. In three seasons at West Lafayette, he averaged 32.3 points per game. He was drafted in the eighth round by the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers in the 1970 draft, but he was the first overall pick by the Indiana Pacers in the ABA draft.

    Mount chose the Pacers, but his stellar on-court performances were over.

    He played only five seasons for five different ABA teams before his career ended at age 28. He averaged 11.3 points per game in his career. In the aforementioned SI article, Mount blames unfair coaches for his flop as a pro.

    The coaches that coached him blame his slow feet. Whatever the case, Mount never panned out.

    At the age of 65, Mount has come to grips with the fact that he never became a star. From the stories in the other slides of this piece, it's clear things could have been worse.

Bobby Carpenter

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    Most hockey phenoms originate from outside of the United States, but Bobby Carpenter was as American as apple pie.

    He hails from Danvers, Mass., and he holds the distinction of being the first U.S. born player to be picked in the first round of the NHL draft.

    The Washington Capitals selected him with the third overall pick in 1981. 

    Carpenter didn't become an all-time great, but he definitely had a solid career. He played 18 years in the NHL, scoring 320 goals for five different teams.

    He became the first U.S.-born player to score 50 goals in an NHL season during the 1984-85 campaign. Carpenter is forever linked to American excellence in a sport generally ruled by Canadians.

    He is now 46 years old, and working with the Eastern Junior Hockey League, per Examiner.com.

Kristie Phillips

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    Kristie Phillips was supposed to be the "New Mary Lou" as the famous Sports Illustrated cover states, as in Mary Lou Retton, the diminutive sweetheart that stole America's heart in the 1984 Olympics.

    Phillips' time to shine was supposed to be in 1988. She seemed to be on her way too.

    The SI cover is from 1986 when Phillips was just 14 years old, and by that time she had won all-around titles at the junior nationals, American Cup and the Olympic Festival.

    The Seoul Olympics were to be Phillips' stage.

    In 1987 things started to get off track. As her body naturally grew she lost flexibility and she began to battle her weight. Her performance began to suffer, and ultimately she could only make the 1988 Olympic team as a second alternate.

    She didn't get an opportunity to compete in Seoul.

    Phillips retired from competition after competing in a series of exhibitions in the late 1990s, but she didn't stop performing.

    Phillips pursued a career in acting, and had a starring role in the movie Spitfire, and a smaller role in the comedy Mafia!, per Sports Illustrated.

    She was inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2006. Phillips is now 40 years old, and known as Kristie Phillips-Bannister. She's married with three children, and she owns the Kristie Phillips Athletic Center.

    She proved that reaching others' expectations of athletic greatness doesn't define her own happiness.

Jon Peters

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    A 51-0 record is impressive. I don't care if you're pitching against fifth graders.

    That was the sparkling tally high school phenom Jon Peters compiled at Brenham High School in Brenham, Texas, from 1985-89. The feat landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated, but his time in the spotlight didn't last long.

    Shortly after he appeared on SI's cover, he lost his first high school game. He still finished his prep career an amazing 54-1. However, the bad fortune got even worse as Peters suffered a serious arm injury early in his collegiate career.

    He went to college at Texas A&M University, but injuries kept him off the field throughout his stay. He did see time on the field at Blinn College, but injuries forced him to retire.

    In 1997 in an SI article, Peters blamed bad mechanics in his pitching motion for his injuries.

    His work ethic has spawned success in other areas since he stopped pitching.

    He earned a degree in kinesiology from A&M, and a M.A. in kinesiology from Sam Houston State, per Sports Illustrated. The PerfectGame.com reported that sources said Peters, who is now 41, still lives in Brenham and works the ticket booth for games periodically.

    He told SI: "Sometimes I do wonder, 'What if?' But I have no regrets. It was just never meant to be."

Kevin Garnett

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    Kevin Garnett was one of my favorite basketball players of all time.

    Notice I said "was", and not because he recently pondered retirement. I say "was" because now he's become the crusty old guy that punches wimpish Phoenix Suns players in the testicles and yells "anything is possible" with a ridiculous amount of visible saliva in his mouth.

    Before that happened, I remember rushing to the aforementioned Chicago Public League Playoff game to see the man-child set to make the preps-to-pros jump. Although we always wanted to, Chicago cannot claim Garnett as one of its own.

    After all, he only spent one year in the Windy City. He came to Chi-town from Mauldin, South Carolina. Teamed with Ronnie Fields at Farragut High School, he made the Admirals instant city and state championship contenders.

    He dominated in such a way that scouts and basketball experts gave tons of credence to his inevitable leap from high school to the NBA. This newspaper clipping from the Register Guard in Eugene, Oregon, gushes about Garnett's potential.

    Though the Admirals would lose in Champaign, Ill., at the state Elite Eight tournament to Melvin Ely and Tai Streets' Thornton team, KG had proved his point.

    The Minnesota Timberwolves selected the 6'11" freakishly gifted and fiercely competitive Garnett with the fifth overall pick in the 1995 NBA draft.

    You'll read no bust stories in this slide.

    Garnett is simply one of the five best power forwards in the history of the game—period. I'll argue with anyone that tells me different.

    At 36, he hasn't exactly aged gracefully—at least not as a competitor. He's replaced the athleticism he's lost with mean-spirited play.

    But who am I to argue with his methods?

    In the 2011-12 season when many thought KG was all but done, he averaged 16 points, eight rebounds and a block per game. Rick Mount never did that.

    From child phenom to all-time great, it's a rarity, but KG has become exactly that.

Bryce Harper

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    Aside from smacking himself in the face with a bat during a tantrum, Bryce Harper's very young baseball career has been a success. During a fit of rage early in the season, Harper slammed his bat against the wall in the Washington Nationals' clubhouse, per Washington Times.

    The wall hit back as the bat caromed back into Harper's face leaving him bloodied and in need of stitches. It was an embarrassing moment, but Harper is a tough kid.

    In 2009, Sports Illustrated called him baseball's version of LeBron James.

    At 15 years old, Harper was launching 570-foot home runs, and reportedly hurling the ball at 97 miles per hour. The powerful young left-hander looked every bit the part of a baseball golden boy. He was originally a catcher, but who wants to see a prospect this good get beaten up behind the plate?

    He was named Baseball America's high school player of the year in 2009.

    Harper was on the fast-track in every way. He earned his GED after his sophomore year in high school just so he could be eligible for the 2010 MLB draft. The Washington Nationals took him No. 1 overall in 2010, and Harper was on his way.

    After a successful minor league stint, he made his major league debut on April 27. 

    Harper hit .270 with 22 home runs and 59 RBI in his first major league season and made the National League All-Star team.

    He looks primed to have the type of career most expected, but it is still early. He's only 20 years old, and he's still learning the game. His ceiling is exceptionally high—then again, you already knew that.

    Hopefully, he won't wack himself with another bat, and we'll see just what he can accomplish in a long major league career.

Felipe Lopez

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    Felipe Lopez's path to childhood stardom was a bit different from most basketball phenoms. He was born in the Dominican Republic, but he came to the United States when he was 14 years old.

    Lopez quickly became a standout on the basketball court as he attended Rice High School in New York. He not only flourished, Lopez became the nation's No. 1 high school player. He was recruited by almost every major program in the country.

    He chose to stay close to his second home in New York, and he attended St. John's. 

    Lopez wasn't a one-and-done player, nor an early entrant after his second or third year in school. He stayed four years, which is definitely rare for a recruit as celebrated as him. Although he was a very good player at St. John's, I wouldn't say he was ever great.

    The numbers are definitely more than respectable. He averaged 16.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game in his four years at St. John's University, but he only led his team to the NCAA tournament once.

    Lopez defends his collegiate career with confidence when critics imply he was a bust. He told Dylan Butler of the New York Post:

    It’s weird to hear my college career was over-hyped or all that. If you look at the numbers, shoot if you can’t put two and two together, you either don’t know how to count or you’re just very ignorant.

    It just so happened as a team we were never really able to put something good together that helped us get over the hump.

    I think I heard a quote like that in Boyz in the Hood:

     

     

    Ooops, I meant this one, skip to the 1:17 mark for Cube's poorly delivered, but famous line:

     

    Lopez's NBA career was unmistakably ordinary, no matter how you look at it. In five NBA seasons he averaged 5.8 points per game for four different teams.

    He's now 37 years old and working as an NBA ambassador with NBA Cares.

Lenny Cooke

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    In March 2012, Lenny Cooke told Harvey Araton of the New York Times, "I went from being a superstar basketball player to being a cook," as he prepared a meal for one of his three children.

    Cooke seemingly can't completely come to grips with the fact that he never became who he and many others thought he'd be. Today, he is 30 years old, unemployed, and close to 300 pounds.

    That is a far cry from the 6'6" muscularly athletic young man that was considered the nation's best high school basketball player in 2002. One of his now famous contemporaries, Carmelo Anthony, said this of Cook:

    It was his size, how strong he was, how he could pass the ball and play the point, kind of like Magic, I guess. He was really explosive.

    He was the man, and the worst part about that was that he knew it, and apparently abused it.

    Cooke's life would change with an event that a young man with better guidance would have been able to bounce back from. In the famous and heralded prep showcase called the ABCD camp at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Cooke was outplayed and embarrassed by another young phenom.

    His name was LeBron James.

    Not only did James outscore him 23-9 in the game, but he also made the game-winner over Cooke.

    It was a sobering moment for him, and one Adidas rep Sonny Vaccaro says Cooke never recovered from.

    Following bad advice and a boat load of pride, Cooke skipped college and made himself eligible for the 2002 NBA draft. He went undrafted as many felt his game was more flash than substance. He bounced around from the NBDL to several foreign leagues over the next three years.

    While playing for the Long Beach Jam of the ABA, Cooke was in a car accident that nearly cost him his leg. He had to recover from a coma, but he spent months in a wheel chair. He was still determined to give his career a shot, but he ruptured both Achilles tendons in separate injuries, and by 2008 his career was over.

    It's a sad story not just because of the unrealized athletic potential. The saddest part is that he seems to lack inner peace. Araton wrote:

    Nobody seems to know what Cooke is looking for — closure from basketball and the key to his future, or the perpetuation of a legend that was never quite written.

Dajuan Wagner

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    Wagner is the son of a college and pro basketball player, and a New Jersey high school basketball legend. You'd be a legend too if you scored 100 points in a game as a high school senior.

    The fact that Wagner is only 6'2" made the feat that much more impressive. He averaged 42 points per game as a senior. He would spend one year at the University of Memphis before being taken sixth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2002 NBA draft.

    As a rookie he had a 33-point game, but he never had another game close to that in the NBA. In four injury-riddled seasons Wagner only appeared in 103 games.

    He certainly showed flashes of being the electric scorer many believed he could be, but the various physical ailments held him back. According to Jason Nark of Philly.com, Wagner's physical issues ranged from injured knees, ankles and a stomach ailment that turned out to be colitis.

    The latter is a serious ailment that required Wagner to have his colon removed.

    Wagner's failure to reach his potential was due more to injury happenstance than any bad decisions on his part. That said, the story isn't completely over.

    According to Nark, Wagner is attempting a comeback. He's working out every day trying to get himself in shape to make a realistic run at it. He's only 28, and he hasn't logged a ton of minutes because of his injuries.

    His personal trainer told Nark:

    Wagner is about 90 percent ready. He trains like a football player, and straps 100-pound weights around his waist when he does pull-ups. He does everything I ask, no questions asked.

    Wagner could be ready for the 2012-13 NBA season. It's a matter of getting the legs back to game shape. His shot is incredible. That hasn't changed at all. He can shoot from pretty much anywhere. It's almost surreal to watch.

    Though it seems unlikely, it's still an intriguing story. I'm personally rooting for him to succeed.

Greg "Toe" Nash

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    Tampa Bay Rays scout Dan Jennings once called Greg "Toe" Nash the next Babe Ruth—really, per ESPN's Peter Gammons. He was first noticed in a little league game in 1994. Baseball scout Benny Latino called him the greatest little-leaguer he'd ever seen.

    He hit two home runs and struck out 17 of the 21 batters he faced.

    Latino wrote Nash's name down an vowed to check back in on him. He expected to hear his name by the time he reached 10th grade, but he never heard his name again.

    He went back to Hammond, Louisiana, where he saw the child phenom, but was surprised to find the boy had dropped out of grade school and was working in a sugarcane field.

    No, I'm not making this up.

    By this time Nash (who had been given the nickname Toe by his father because of his large feet) was 6'6" and 215 pounds. His power had progressed even better than Latino had imagined.

    He told Gammons: 

    I couldn't believe what I saw. He hit one homer from the right side, about 380 feet. He hit one from the left side more than 400 feet. He pitched and was throwing in the 90s and blowing people away. He was The Natural.

    Latino pounced on him and put the young man in front of Jennings. Toe put on a show hitting and pitching; it was truly impressive.

    The Rays liked him and ultimately signed Nash to a $30,000 signing bonus. Nash was officially in an MLB minor league system. He had never been out of Louisiana, so the initial trips were rough.

    He hadn't flown before, and much of what took place was culture shock. He eventually got himself together enough to handle the minor league process. Former major-leaguer Harold Reynolds took him under his wing.

    He introduced Nash to major league stars Ken Griffey, Jr., Eric Davis and more. Nash struggled in the minors with his batting average and making contact, but he still showed tremendous power. He hit .240 with eight home runs in 47 games.

    Before he even began his journey with the Devil Rays, Nash found trouble—or vice versa—it depends on how you look at it. Soon, the troubles would get even more serious. As a 19-year-old, he was accused, arrested and did time for the rape of a 15-year-old girl, per ESPN.

    Nash told his father he was innocent, but he pleaded guilty to having sex with a minor. The rape charges were apparently dropped, according to his lawyer, but the damage had been done.

    When he was released from jail in September of 2002, the Devil Rays released him. More legal problems would follow that ultimately extinguished any shot he had of realizing his immense talent.

    In 2002, the Cincinnati Reds signed Nash, but subsequently released him after he violated his probation. The baseball world hasn't seen Nash since, and he's the only child phenom who literally seems to have fallen off the face of the earth.

    That is quite rare in this world of seemingly endless information highways, but Nash was likely one of a kind.

LeBron James

20 of 20

    The single-greatest child phenom in the history of sports is LeBron Raymone James.

    Let the hate commence.

    Find me another child phenom that has accomplished as much, been just as good—if not better—than advertised, and kept himself out of trouble throughout all the hoopla.

    Go ahead, I'll wait.

    You can talk about "The Decision" all you want, but LeBron has broken no laws, never been suspended from a team or been linked to anything else illegal or immoral worth mentioning in this slide. 

    If he never scores another point, grabs another rebound, dishes another assist, or collects another spectacular chase-down block, he'd still arguably be one of the greatest ever.

    Like many other child phenoms, much of the sports world first got wind of him from—you guessed it, Sports Illustrated. He was called the Chosen One back in 2002. He was just a junior in high school, but many NBA GMs said he would have been the top pick in the draft at that point.

    Adidas representative Sonny Vaccaro said this of the 17-year old LeBron:

    At this age LeBron is better than anybody I've seen in 37 years in this business, including Kevin [Garnett] and Kobe [Bryant] and Tracy [McGrady].

    That's high praise, but tell me he hasn't lived up to it.

    Take a look at this list of achievements:

    • NBA Rookie of the Year
    • Eight-time All-Star
    • Two-time NBA All-Star MVP
    • Three-time league MVP
    • Eight-time All-NBA selection
    • Four-time All-Defensive team selection
    • NBA Finals MVP
    • NBA champion

    Stop me when I'm lying...

    At 27 years old LeBron isn't nearly done. Things haven't been perfect for him, but this is how we wished life would have turned out for all the child phenoms on this list.