Drafted #32 overall by the Seattle SuperSonics out of high school in 1998 (lockout year), Rashard Lewis had to grind it out for an NBA contract, and he did just that.
(via Orlando Magic):
Ryan Anderson: “Man, I cannot imagine the experience of jumping from high school straight into the NBA. I wanted to touch into what that experience is like. I had two years in college, but I had a team around me, even with the decisions of where to go to college, when to jump into the NBA, to get an agent. There’s a lot of decisions that go into that. How was that decision for you and did you have a team around you to help with that?”
Lewis: “Well back then, you couldn’t have an agent. There were certain rules you had to follow by; or I wouldn’t be able to go to college. And my whole thing when I was a senior playing in high school, I heard the rumors that I had a chance to go into the draft; but you didn’t believe it because it was just a rumor. Until I had one high school game playing against our rivals. Don Nelson, who was coaching for the Dallas Mavericks, was standing right under the basket. I didn’t really know him at the time. We were warming up, big tall guy, I didn’t know him. I go to the bench before we get to play and they’re like, ‘Don Nelson is here.’ I’m like ‘Who is Don Nelson?’ They’re like, ‘The coach for the Mavericks. Look, he’s under the basket.’ So I’m looking under the basket, big tall guy just standing there. So that’s when I figured out that the rumor was true that I may have a chance to jump to the NBA. But it was definitely a tough transition. I thought I would get picked in the lottery, ended up falling to the second round, which you’re not guaranteed a contract; you have to make the team. Back then when you declare your name for the draft; there’s no going back to college. So it’s either make the team or go overseas and play. And as a high school kid, I’ve never been out of the country. So it was a very tough transition for me. We had a lockout that year. The season locks out right after the draft and I go in the second round, so I’m nervous.
“I go home and just work out and train my tail off with a lot of Rockets, local NBA players. And I think that really helped me, helped my game, and my confidence level because the draft honestly broke me down. If we had a training camp after that; I don’t know if I would have made the team. I had to kinda rebuild myself up during that lockout, work my tail off. Once the lockout was over with, went down to Seattle a week before the draft started, was playing pickup basketball. I went out there, the first day I played a pickup game, just being very athletic, hustling, doing the little things. Before camp started that following week, I go back to play pickup the next day, the general manager calls me upstairs and gives me a two-year. I feel I’m bringing back the memories, but he gives a two-year deal for the minimum. It brought tears to my eyes because I’m an 18-year-old kid that wants to be drafted into the NBA, went in the second round, now I have to make the team, I can’t go back to college. So I didn’t know where my life was headed. When they gave me that two-year deal, I called my mom, let her know I signed a deal, and I felt like this is where I worked myself off for this two-year deal to make myself stick in the league. I was happy to get that two-year deal because I couldn’t go to college and I didn’t know where I was headed. So I was just excited, putting that work in really does pay off in the future. I commend you guys to continue to keep putting in the work.”
Ryan Anderson: “So crazy to me to think of a 17-year-old having to deal with all those pressures and getting money like that and calling your mom like, ‘Yeah, I can pretty much provide for myself. I think I’m OK now.”
Lewis: “But that first phone call to mom, I was crying because I’m drafted in the second round coming out of high school, I didn’t know what was going to happen. And then when he gave me that guaranteed deal, I didn’t want to go to training camp trying to make the team, you’re going against grown men as a teenager. So I didn’t know what that experience was going to be like for me, but I was lucky that they gave me a two-year deal for the minimum, and I worked off that. So I was blessed.”
Ryan Anderson: “That’s incredible.”