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Jeremy Tyler's experience in Euro pro ball didn't quite work out

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With great fanfare, 6-foot-11 basketball phenom Jeremy Tyler left high school — not college, high school — after his junior year to turn pro overseas. It’s safe to say that his experience did not go well. However, it’s also safe to say his experience will not prevent him from going to the NBA, which was the whole point of his adventure.

Tyler quit Maccabi Haifa, a pro team in Israel, with five weeks to go in the season, a season in which he was chained to the bench, averaging the equivalent of one basket per game in the 10 contests he played.

This decision is no big surprise. In November, three months into Tyler’s pro career, the New York Times published Pete Thamel’s look at how horribly wrong things were going. From the Times:

His coach calls him lazy and out of shape. The team captain says he is soft. His teammates say he needs to learn to shut up and show up on time. He has no friends on the team. In extensive interviews with Tyler, his teammates, coaches, his father and advisers, the consensus is that he is so naïve and immature that he has no idea how naïve and immature he is. So enamored with his vast potential, Tyler has not developed the work ethic necessary to tap it.

“The question is whether he’ll take responsibility of his career,” Haifa Coach Avi Ashkenazi said. “If he thinks he’s going to be in the N.B.A. because his name is Jeremy Tyler and he was a very good high school player, he will not be.” …

To help him adjust, the Wasserman Media Group sent one of Tyler’s agents, Makhtar Ndiaye, to Israel late last month for an extended stay to help him focus.

Tyler still talks openly about retiring with $200 million in the bank after a 15-year N.B.A. career. He also talks about modeling, the documentary being made about him, and how he and his girlfriend, Erin Wright, the daughter of the rapper Eazy-E, will grow up to be an American power couple.

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But he scored just 1 point in his first two games, and his coach was baffled that a player with such great potential could arrive without basic skills like boxing out and rotating on defense. Tyler is lost, Ashkenazi said, if he cannot do what he does best: taking the ball to the rim and dunking.

Jason Rich, an American teammate who was a standout at Florida State, said, “It’s hard to say what exactly is that thing that’s going to wake him up.”

Tyler, a 6-foot-11 center considered the best American big man since Greg Oden, cried when leaving the United States. He missed his first flight because he did not know he needed his passport. He left the locker room in tears after playing just 10 minutes in his first game.

The parallel is often drawn between Tyler and Brandon Jennings, who instead of participate in the one-and-done charade by playing a year of NCAA basketball, instead went to Europe. Jennings, as Tyler was to learn, found that being hot shit in high school meant less than nothing when you’re playing with grown men, and that the cultural adjustment made that transition even harder.

But Jennings is widely acknowledged to have learned a lot about basketball and growing up, and has parlayed that knowledge into a successful rookie season with the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s not clear to anyone whether Tyler has learned anything from his experience, and pulling a Palin on his team certainly doesn’t help.

On the other hand, Tyler is 6-foot-11. And he’s not even eligible for the NBA draft until 2011, when his high school senior class will have put in their one year of college time. So Tyler has time to change minds. Sonny Vaccaro, the former shoe impresario who advised Jennings and Tyler on their Euro trips, said he believes Tyler will sign elsewhere in August, and that he’s gotten good word on him from NBA scouts. From ESPN:

“Five or six NBA scouts have told me recently to just have Jeremy come home and start practicing, that the experience in Israel is not detrimental to his future,” Vaccaro said.

Now I’m sure most of us, as people and parents, will never have the experience of being so athletically talented that we, or our spawn, will be in demand at such tender ages. But Tyler is a reminder that despite any early flourishing of talent, you have to take maturity and mental toughness into account before being pushed, or pushing your kid, full speed ahead, whether it’s in basketball, violin, speech team or whatever. Of course, it’s not always an easy decision.

My parents decided to change my school to promote me early, so I ended up graduating high school at 16, which I’m still not sure was the correct way to go. But then again, these decisions aren’t made with benefit of hindsight. I was reading in kindergarten at a time when that wasn’t encouraged (believe it or not), especially by a teacher who got pissed I would read my classmates her notes to their parents about what snots they were.

By all accounts — and I am not comparing my intellect to Jeremy Tyler’s prodigious basketball ability — Tyler was so far ahead of his peers physically that he could learn no more in high school, or worse yet that he was going to get hurt by some schlub coming at him because he had no other options. The tricky part is now, when Tyler has had the horrible experience. If he and his family can get through this, then he might have that dream career he’s wanted. If not, he’s going to be a bitter casualty before he gets to drinking age.

Written by rkcookjr

March 19, 2010 at 6:06 pm

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