Jeremy Tyler left high school to play professionally in the Holy Land, where the plan was to do a credible Kevin Garnett impression and expose the folly of the minimum-age rule. The plan was not to play like Oliver Miller.
Alas, as The New York Times' Pete Thamel reports, after just three months in Haifa, Israel, Tyler is being turned into your standard American basketball bogeyman: listless, undisciplined, money-obsessed and supremely self-entitled.
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 6-foot-10 Tyler scored a single point in his first two games, and his season thus far has been notable mostly for his talent to turn everyone around him into Mr. Wilson. He was fined $1,000 for missing a workout and turning up late for an interview. His neighbors have called the police with noise complaints. His girlfriend is Erin Wright, daughter of Eazy-E, whom Tyler's father calls a distraction and a "gold digger."
"It is too early to declare Tyler a bust," Thamel writes, "but it is safe to say that he has transformed from a can't-miss prospect into a project."
Maybe so, but we've been here before. In January, the Times did some concern trolling about another age-rule martyr, Brandon Jennings. Like Tyler, Jennings bundled himself off to a foreign land in part to help bring down an unfair and misbegotten rule. Like Tyler, Jennings' struggles were swiftly put to use as a cautionary tale about the ingrained selfishness of American basketball and the perils of bucking the system. Jennings couldn't find his way off Lottomatica Roma's bench and before last June's draft was said to be an "enigma" with a "bad attitude." Today, he's so well-regarded that Knicks president Donnie Walsh is more or less openly apologetic about not drafting him. Tyler is even younger than Jennings was when he shipped off; if he were back in California, he'd be starting his senior season of high school ball right about now. He'll be fine. He just has to survive another year-and-a-half of other people's handwringing.
Photo via The New York Times
Young, Talented and Unhappy Playing Basketball Overseas [New York Times]