Ellis Richardson couldn't see how foolish his dream was until the final name in the 1998 NBA draft was called--and it wasn't his.
"After the draft was over, that's when I realized I made a mistake," said Richardson, who declared for the draft out of Sun Valley Poly High two years ago, even though he wasn't among the most prominent high school players in Southern California.
Undrafted, Richardson quit basketball and found trouble, going to prison for eight months after being convicted for a San Fernando Valley robbery.
Released in January, he is now living with relatives in South Florida, still hoping to revive his career.
"I'm trying to teach my nephews how to be better than I was, athletic-wise and school-wise," Richardson said. "I made some bad decisions. I could have had a scholarship."
His high school coach, Jay Werner, counseled Richardson against declaring for the draft, telling him junior college would be a good option.
But Richardson, a guard who averaged 21 points a game and scored only five points in a San Fernando Valley high school all-star game, tried the draft anyway, to wide ridicule.
"What I've learned over the past 2 1/2 years is a lot," Richardson said. "I've learned the people I was dealing with, who were telling me I was going to get drafted, were bogus people.
"I should have waited."
Like many young players, Richardson was caught up by the dazzling success of Kevin Garnett.
"When I was in 9th grade, Kevin Garnett did it, and I said, 'Man, I want to do it,' " Richardson said. "It's been my dream since I started running up and down the court.
"Me and my sister talked about it and said, 'Forget it. Let's do it. Somebody might take a chance on me.' "
He never understood what a longshot he was.
"I didn't go to Chicago [for the predraft camp] because I didn't get invited," he said. "Once I found out I didn't get invited, I realized I might have made a bad decision. I thought a couple out there might still take a chance on me. The Clippers or the Denver Nuggets."
No chance. In fact, Richardson's reputation as a basketball player is so limited that even his parole officer was amazed to learn that Richardson had once declared for the NBA draft.
Richardson said it was his disappointment that led him into trouble.
"After I didn't get drafted, it shot my confidence," he said. "I quit. I didn't do nothing. I was hanging out with people from my community, let's call it that. I got caught up in some things."
Though Richardson called his conviction "a case of mistaken identity," he also said, "I take full responsibility. I shouldn't have been around, but I was there, and I regret it. I feel bad for the people that got robbed."
His time in prison was spent in reflection, he said.
"I kept myself really low," he said. "Of course in prison, there's violence, different sides. You can get hurt. I was in constant prayer I wouldn't get hurt. It was a wake-up call. I'd sit and reflect about how I would make better decisions.
"I sat in my cell and thought, and I did push-ups."
Since his release, he has been plotting a return to basketball and has worked for an air freight company doing such tasks as scanning packages, weighing and loading.
"I was going to go to Palm Beach Community College," he said. "But I didn't want to play JC. That would be going backwards.
"I'm going to play ball again, but it's not going to be for school. I'm going to Charlotte, North Carolina, and go out for the Charlotte Hornets."
He does not have an agent, however.
"I represent myself," he said.
Nor has he had any conversations with the Hornets.
"I saw so many players drafted before me," he said. "Players I was better than. I averaged 30 points, seven assists, nine rebounds. I know it was high school, but come on.
"I know I was better than Olowokandi."
Michael Olowokandi was the No. 1 pick overall in the 1998 draft.