Brandon Jennings made headlines when he became the first American high school graduate to make the jump to Europe, bypassing the Collegiate and D-League systems. Now San Diego High School junior, Jeremy Tyler is taking the next logical step in the process, dropping his senior high school year in favour of the riches on offer playing professionally in Europe.
Tyler, a 6’11” forward/centre, will be the first American to leave high school early with a preference for playing overseas. The way I look at it, this could be the next logical step for some basketball players, en route to the NBA. This is an option which has not been considered by most players in the past, who have always been drilled into believing that the one and only secure path to the NBA was to play high school ball, followed by some form of college career, before being drafted to the big league.
However, what has been ignored by many, is the vast array of benefits to taking Tyler’s (and Jennings’) route to a professional career.
Professional basketball experience: players all over the world, outside of the USA, play professionally from as young as fifteen years of age. This experience quickly prepares them for the realities of pro ball and also affords them an opportunity to play on a squad where they are not expected to produce big numbers whilst they are still young. Taking this route rather than hitting the NBA as a pro after being a high draft pick relieves a great deal of pressure in the player’s first pro experience. Dealing with seasoned veterans from an early age can only make for a more well-rounded player.
Dropping the facade: for so long, a charade has been running where young men who never intend to gain an academic education are forced to pretend to take classes at university (and high school), whilst basketball is clearly their key concern. Academic institutions make concessions for these players in the classroom in order to bolster their basketball programs and this can do nothing but detract from the concentration levels of other students, take positions away from legitimate students and reduce training time for players that are ultimately going to make careers in basketball anyway.
Life experience: there is a lot to be said for the life experience to be gained by travelling and living overseas, particularly in a non-English speaking country. This is a rich learning opportunity for these young men — one which may re-shape the way they see life and give them a wider view on big issues in the world. It is worth remembering that these young athletes often become very rich young men, providing them with the power to affect change in the world. A young LeBron James, had he spent time overseas, perhaps would have had a greater perspective on issues such as the Darfur conflict, on which he was pressured around the time of the Beijing Olympics.
Obviously this route to the pros does not apply to every student-athlete. Players who are not a “sure thing” to make the NBA should not forgo the opportunity to gain a college education (or complete their high school studies) should they have the grades to make that move. This of course discounts the fact that education could be continued whilst in Europe — a move that many American college students make every year, taking in a taste of Europe during their college years.
The New York Times: He is expected to return in two years, when he is projected to be a top pick, if not the No. 1 pick, in the 2011 N.B.A. draft.
Tyler, who had orally committed to play for Rick Pitino at Louisville, has yet to sign with an agent or a professional team. His likely destination is Spain, though teams from other European leagues have shown interest. A spokesman for Louisville said the university could not comment about Tyler.
“Nowadays people look to college for more off-the-court stuff versus being in the gym and getting better,” Tyler said. “If you’re really focused on getting better, you go play pro somewhere. Pro guys will get you way better than playing against college guys.”
Sonny Vaccaro, a former sneaker company executive, orchestrated Jennings’s move and has guided Tyler and his family through the process.
“It’s significant because it shows the curiosity for the American player just refusing to accept what he’s told he has to do,” Vaccaro said. “We’re getting closer to the European reality of a professional at a young age. Basically, Jeremy Tyler is saying, ‘Why do I have to go to high school?’ ”
Vaccaro said he was unsure how much money Tyler would make, though it will most likely be less than the $1.2 million Jennings made in a combination of salary and endorsements this season. Vaccaro said Tyler would make a six-figure salary, noting that the economic crisis in Europe could hurt his earnings.
Will this start another trend in the ongoing move to subvert David Stern’s attempt to filter players to the NBA in the manner which he sees fit? If Stern had his way, all players would either follow the College route or failing that, play in the D League, arriving in the pro league as mature, well-rounded, “pro-ready” players. This may just be another method of achieving Stern’s aims, without him realising it.