You can call Jeremy Tyler a trail blazer if you'd like (not the Portland kind. Not yet, anyway). In the strictest sense, it applies. I'd prefer not, though, since it brings with it the positive connotations of creating a path where one didn't exist, thus opening it up for others to follow. Jeremy Tyler's path is not for everyone. It's for anyone, really. It was barely a path for Jeremy.
Tyler left high school early to pursue a pro career overseas. He was an impatient Brandon Jennings, out to show the world that no system was going to tell him to wait, make no money at Louisville (that anyone knew of), and then hit the NBA. Nope, Tyler went to Israel to cash in and start becoming the second coming of Kevin Garnett.
Except that didn't go so well. 10 games into a $140,000 deal, Tyler quit and came back home after making a not-so-great impression on his team.
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.”
Needing to salvage his career at barely 19 years old, Tyler turned to Japan, where things went a little more smoothly. Under an American coach (former NBA head coach Bob Hill) and with American players to help guide him, Tyler started to mature and contribute off the bench.
"He has been everything I always wanted, a great role model, a great leader, father-figure, coach," Tyler said, adding he learned every day from the former coach of the Knicks, Spurs, Pacers and SuperSonics.
Honing his game, and his mind, into something that might be ready for the NBA, Tyler is now eligible for the draft and making the workout rounds. And he's making quite an impression. Originally projected as a late second rounder, Tyler is now raising the eyebrows of fans and executives in the lower third of the draft. Just in the past few days, "what if" pieces have been written about Tyler heading to the Knicks, Nets, Kings, and Celtics and ther are reports of the Nuggets, Rockets and Spurs showing interest as well.
They see a 6-10, 260 athlete who can face up or post up. They see a kid who, at that size, says he'll have a 40 inch vertical. They see a kid with raw talent and potential to maybe be something special. And while they may be turned off by his hop-scotching across the globe, Jeremy sees it as a good thing.
I felt like I wouldn’t be the player I am now. It definitely developed me, you know, on and off the court. I mean, it was a neat experience. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. If I had to do it all over again I’d do it the same.
There is no doubt Tyler is working hard to get himself noticed and improve his value. He sees his journey as a maturation process, and it certainly was that. But what we'll never know is what he could have been had he made the right decision and stayed in high school, gone to a college program and showcased what he had on a national stage. It's entirely possible Tyler could have turned himself into a lottery pick.
Then again, it's entirely possible he could have been worse off. It's impossible to tell now. Maybe his ego heading out of high school was so huge that it needed to be popped by an experience like the one he had in Israel. Maybe finding Bob Hill gave him knowledge he never would have gotten out of Rick Pitino. Maybe the terrible decision to come out of high school early was actually a good one for him because it taught him he wasn't who he thought he was, and he needed to grow up before playing with grown men in the NBA.
For better or for worse, it's going to work out for Jeremy Tyler. He'll make it to the league and get at least one big contract. It's not a path everyone should follow, but it's working out for him. And that's all that matters.
Associated Press photo