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What happened to Lenny Cooke, the high-school star rated higher than LeBron James?

Joshua Rogers December 29, 2021
What happened to Lenny Cooke, the high-school star rated higher than LeBron James?
Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

In 2001, Lenny Cooke was the most hyped high-school basketball player in the US. He was ranked above future greats such as LeBron James, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, but never played a minute in the NBA. So, what happened to Lenny Cooke?

In 2001, high-school basketball was packed with promising young talent. However, Lenny Cooke, from Atlantic City, New Jersey, was ranked above future greats such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Amar’e Stoudemire.

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Lenny Cooke’s exceptional high-school career explored

At La Salle Academy in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Cooke averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds per game. He then transferred to Northern Valley Regional High School in New Jersey for his last two years, averaging 25 points per game.

By his senior year in high school, he was averaging 31.5 points per game. By then, Cooke had established himself as one of the country’s top high-school basketball prospects, along with LeBron and Carmelo.

ESPN even ranked him as the second-best senior in his class behind Anthony and before future NBA players such as Stoudemire, Raymond Felton and Chris Bosh.

However when he turned 19 in 2001, Cooke was academically ineligible to play according to high-school athletics’ rules in his home county of New Jersey.

Cooke declares for 2002 NBA Draft

After exhausting his high-school basketball eligibility, Cooke went to Mott Adult High School in Flint, Michigan, to get a diploma and work on his game. However, because of his ineligibility he was forced to play pick-up games rather than actual competitive ones.

At the end of the 2001-02 season, the likes of North Carolina, Seton Hall, St John’s, Miami and Ohio State had shown interest in Cooke.

However, badly informed agents advised Cooke to declare for the 2002 NBA Draft.

They told him at least a dozen NBA teams were seriously considering him, and at least three were guaranteed to take him in the first round.

Cooke participated in the Chicago Pre-Draft Camp but injured his toe, which affected his performance and limited him to a single game.

The 2002 NBA Draft came and went and nobody selected Cooke, much to his surprise.

His brief spell with the Celtics and subsequent injury

Cooke then became a free agent and played in a Rucker Park Summer League in 2002. That same year he played in the National Basketball Development League, which prompted the Boston Celtics to invite him to play on their summer league team in 2003.

That year Cooke had already seen former rivals LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh selected high in the 2003 NBA Draft.

However, Cooke failed to make an impact with the Boston Celtics, which was the closest he ever came to the NBA.

Cooke played in several minor leagues in the years after. He eventually blew out his other Achilles’ tendon in 2006-07, which ended his career.

What happened to Lenny Cooke since?

Cooke had a lasting impact on the NBA. In the years after, the league changed its rules to prevent high-school players jumping straight to the NBA.

The NBA also required all players to be at least 19 years old and at least one year removed from high school.

Cooke’s poor decisions – often informed by agents – as well as his hastiness to get to the league are ultimately what cost him.

“I had an opportunity to be an NBA superstar one day,” Cooke said. “But I was around people who told me I should go pro out of high school. They told me I was going to be a lottery pick. I shouldn’t have listened to them.

“Misjudgment, arrogance, attitude – all of those things played a factor in my career,” Cooke told Slam Magazine.

Slam also revealed in its interview that Lenny Cooke had returned to the sport for a season in 2019 to play for the ABA’s Camden Monarchs, a semi-pro team that “emphasises giving back to the community”.

Writing on his Instagram page, Cooke reveals he’s now a motivational speaker under the banner: “My story isn’t finished yet.”

What is Lenny Cooke’s net worth in 2021?

Lenny Cooke was the subject of a 2013 documentary that documented his rise, fall, and subsequent life after basketball.

His son, Anahijae Cooke, also played basketball at high-school level. Lenny Cooke’s net worth in 2021 is estimated at $7 million.

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Joshua is a senior sports writer with over four years' experience in online writing. He graduated with a BA in Ancient History from The University of Manchester before receiving an MA in Sports Journalism from The University of Central Lancashire. He became a trending writer for a leading social publisher and later spent time covering the 2018 World Cup for The Mirror Online. He then moved to a social marketing agency where he acted as website editor. His specialties on The Focus include F1, tennis, NBA, NFL and combat sports.