Bill Willoughby, who jumped from HS to NBA, arrested in New Jersey

Willoughby's story just got even more tragic.

Bill Willoughby should be a familiar name to NBA fans, but instead he’s a footnote for basketball historians. In the mid 1970s, Willoughby was a high-school basketball phenom and eventually became the third player in the sport’s history to skip college and go straight to the pros (after Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins). 

Today, Willoughby remains the sixth-youngest player ever to compete in an NBA game — he was 18 years and 156 days old when he made his debut after the Atlanta Hawks selected him 19th overall in the 1975 draft.

But Willoughby did not blossom, and now, a little over three decades after his brief NBA career ended, the 58-year-old finds himself in trouble with the law (via

A former Nets basketball player and Englewood native was arrested Wednesday night after he allegedly scuffled with two police officers, sending them to the hospital…City police received a call around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday about a suspicious person on Clinton Place, Police Director Michael Mordaga said. Officers had received a similar report and description in that place before. Officers found Willoughby nervous and when he tried to flee, a struggle ensued. He was arrested and found with marijuana in his possession, the director said. He later posted bail. He is charged with possession of marijuana, resisting arrest and aggravated assault on a police officer, Mordaga said. The officers were treated at the hospital for shoulder and back injuries.

Willoughby played for six teams in eight seasons, his most notable stint coming as a member of the Houston Rockets in 1981, when he averaged 21.9 minutes per game during the team’s postseason run to the NBA Finals.

Three years later he was out of the league, a cautionary tale regarding what can happen to promising teenage prospects who didn’t go to college. (Willoughby’s agents allegedly duped him out of about $1 million, and right now he’s at rock bottom.)

But he deserves better. At one point the second-youngest player in NBA history, Willoughby had his moments. Despite standing just 6-foot-8, he once blocked Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s notorious sky-hook (widely regarded as the most dominant shot in basketball history) clean. 

That alone is enough to forge a legendary tale. But right now Willoughby clearly has more issues than sorting out his past. Let’s hope he can get back on the right track.