WASTED POTENTIAL tends to beget enormous regret, which always comes with an overdose of sorrow and a twist of disgrace. Regret, deep and true, can outlive anything the individual might have achieved.

In the most tragic of circumstances, regret can outlive the individual.

Local sports pundits often debate whether the best pure athlete coming out of the Bay Area over the past 30 years is Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell or Isaiah "J.R." Rider. To be sure, each had achievement ceilings that rose to infinity.

Both were blessed with absurd physical gifts and flushed them away. Each has spent much of his adulthood as a defendant or convict, and as they approach midlife, they are textbook examples of great possibilities gone to seed, cautionary tales for those in their wake.

Like, say, Marshawn Lynch.

Lynch, the terrific Buffalo Bills running back and a product of Oakland Technical High and Cal, is one of the few local prep and collegians chosen in the first round of the NFL draft. Taken with the 12th overall pick, he was an instant hit in 2007 with the Bills.

Apparently, though, Lynch never heard the stories about Mitchell and Rider. Hook came along in the mid-1980s and J.R. a few years later. Maybe Marshawn was absent every time they were discussed. Or maybe he decided their self-destructive tendencies couldn't apply to him.

Lynch was lucky three years ago when gunshots were fired into his mother's home; the shooters later said it was a case of mistaken identity. They even apologized to Marshawn's mother.

Lynch was both lucky and infamous last May when the SUV he was driving in downtown Buffalo hit a pedestrian. Lucky because her injuries were minor — she was treated and released — and infamous because his slow road to admission came with utter reluctance.

Though Marshawn pleaded guilty and received relatively light punishment, he didn't "man up" in a way that would make his mama proud.

Less than nine months later, Lynch is back in consultation with his attorney, having been stopped last week in the Los Angeles area and arrested on a felony charge of possession of a concealed weapon.

To recap, Marshawn has avoided bullets, dodged a manslaughter charge and, now, been caught carrying a gun.

Though he still is young, 22, history has taught us careers that begin like this don't always end well.

Which brings us back to Mitchell, whose NBA career never materialized, and Rider, whose career was clipped because he couldn't ignore the demons whispering in his ear.

Once upon a time in Oakland, Mitchell was Dr. Flash to Gary Payton's Mr. Steady. They were competitors and friends, Mitchell at McClymonds High and Payton at Skyline. Payton made it through four years of college and 17 more in the NBA. Mitchell was derailed by crimes usually involving drugs or robbery. To imagine what might have been, see Knicks guard Nate Robinson — except Hook, at 5-foot-11, is four inches taller.

Mitchell never gave himself much of a chance.

Rider, given 1,000 chances, committed 1,000 turnovers.

Marvelous but troubled at Alameda's Encinal High, J.R. passed through two community colleges and transferred to UNLV, where he was arrested for assaulting a fast-food worker. No matter; Minnesota made him the fifth overall pick in the 1993 NBA draft. The 6-5 rookie had three 30-point games in the first two months and won the Slam Dunk Contest with his "East Bay Funk" dunk.

Named to the All-Rookie first team, Rider spent the next eight years smoking away multiple chances at greatness with stunning displays of insubordination, criminal behavior and drug use. He was finished at 31, having tapped a fraction of his potential, and has been arrested four times during the past three years.

Lynch was three days removed from the Pro Bowl when he was busted last week. While the reason for the stop has not been divulged — the term racial profiling likely will come up — the truth is Lynch once again landed on the wrong side of the law.

As the legal process plays out, he can expect a spanking from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who has vowed to act swiftly and forcefully when detecting a pattern.

Meanwhile, Marshawn should do himself the favor of a history lesson and read up on Hook and J.R. It should be required of aspiring pro athletes, and essential for one who grew up on the same streets.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.