Study Abroad: Hoops Major

May 03, 2009

Last week Jeremy Tyler announced that in order to play pro basketball he will skip his senior year. Not of college, but high school. He plans to head overseas until he's eligible for the NBA draft in 2011, when he is projected to be a top 10 pick.

Terrible idea, right? After all, Jeremy will miss out on his senior year, and don't all kids know that this is a magical time of life filled with sock hops and crushes and sitting in your buddy's spit-shined Chevy until 1 a.m., staring up at the stars and just livin', man? Ask Dick Vitale, who told The San Diego Union-Tribune last week that he was "frustrated and very disappointed" at Jeremy's decision, wondering, "When are kids going to realize that being a kid is an important part of life?" Sure, Dickie V neglected to specify when, exactly, kids are supposed to realize that embarking on a career is also an important part of life, but that's not important.

What is important to Vitale and others is that Jeremy could be setting a bad precedent (because change is scary), that he's hurting the college game (because if anyone's going to make money off young athletes, it should be the NCAA!) and that Jeremy is deserting his team for a likely six-figure salary (surely none of his teammates would jump at the same opportunity).

At 6'11" and 260 pounds Jeremy averaged 28.7 points at San Diego High last season despite frequent triple teams—just think how he would dominate next year! Granted, it sounds as if being the King of H.S. Hoops might not be the best thing for him. "If there's a concern about Jeremy, it's his maturity," says Jonathan Givony of draftexpress.com, a scouting service. "He has no idea what he's in for over there."

Which brings up another good point: It's tough enough for grown men to play in Europe, let alone a teenager. Remember Josh Childress? The 25-year-old forward turned down a five-year, $33 million contract from the Atlanta Hawks in 2008 to sign a three-year, $20 million deal with Olympiacos in Greece. In the last nine months, Childress says, he has seen fans spit on his teammates, cumulus clouds of cigarette smoke cover the court and his own team's supporters uproot arena seats to toss onto the hardwood in disgust. All while he has tried to adapt to a different culture and what he calls the "military" approach favored by European teams, which often hold two-a-days during the season. "I cannot imagine," says Childress, "trying to do this when I was a junior in high school. I have a hard enough time now. Jeremy's going to have to grow up really quickly. Being in a different culture is a lot different from going to UCLA from San Diego."

He's got that right. Most kids would be lost. So what if Jeremy's not like most kids? He doesn't eat sweets, play video games or like rap music (he prefers R&B, such as Luther Vandross), and he often arrived at the gym at 5:30 a.m. to practice before school. "He's got an old soul," says his father, James, who along with Jeremy's uncle Maurice has raised the boy since fourth grade. "Basketball is like his best friend."

But what about the vaunted high school experience? Sure, Jeremy's might be a tad different from yours or mine. He's had a documentary film crew following him for close to two years and has been asked for autographs since ninth grade. "If it's not the cameras, it's someone recognizing him," says his former high school coach, Kenny Roy. And, granted, Jeremy's best friend already graduated and he won't exactly miss the prom. "He's already been to four of them," says James. "I'm just glad we won't have to rent another tux."

There's still the matter of education, as Jeremy left San Diego High a month ago and won't graduate with his class. Sure, he plans to get a high school diploma (probably this summer) from Penn Foster, an online school, and to take Web-based college courses while he is overseas. And, yeah, perhaps it's weird to expect a 17-year-old to choose English lit over a six-figure future doing what he loves—especially when so many young golfers, tennis players and entertainers don't. But let's stick to principles here, people!

Besides, why would an elite prospect want to deal with all the trouble of playing abroad? Surely it's not because he actually wants to get better, regardless of who's giving him advice or what other incentives are involved. (An apparel company is already sniffing around.) Just as there's no way that James Tyler realized that on some level, perhaps the best thing for his son might be to be humbled rather than feted. "He's going to get thrown under the bus over there," James says, almost gleefully. "It's the same as him saying, 'Dad, I want to join the Army,' and I say, 'O.K. But once you make that commitment, you can't turn around.'"

It's all enough to make one wonder who is right in the end. Is it Vitale when he argues that "[players like Jeremy] want to chase that dream of being a pro so quickly that they forget about the most important years of their life."

Or is it James Tyler, when he says of his son, "Playing overseas is going to let him spread his wings and become a man."

Because if you ask me, it sounds like those could be the most important years of his life too.

Talk Back
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Of Jeremy's planned jump from 11th grade to pro ball in Europe, Childress says, "I can't imagine trying to do this when I was a junior in high school."

ILLUSTRATIONILLUSTRATION BY KAGAN MCLEOD

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Eagle (-2)
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