Maccabi Tel Aviv might be the basketball team of the nation but lately it's been Maccabi Haifa that has been making bold moves and headlines.According to ESPN, the club owned by Jeff Rosen has finalized a deal to bring U.S. high school phenom Jeremy Tyler to the port city for at least the upcoming season.
The 6'11" (2.11-meter), 18-year-old prep star from San Diego has been in the news since this spring, when he became the first American high school junior in history to jump directly into professional basketball.
Tyler was considered to be the top player in his age group and a sure-fire high draft pick when he becomes eligible for the 2011 Draft. He is part of a growing movement that has U.S. high school players looking into European professional basketball as an alternative to the one year of college ball mandated by the NBA to be eligible for the draft.
Last season, Brandon Jennings was the first to make this move by choosing to play pro ball in Rome after high school rather than a season at University of Arizona. Jennings was chosen by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 10th pick of this year's draft.
Tyler's move is even bolder than Jennings', since he's passing up part of his high school career and going straight to international basketball. This type of move is more common in Europe - Spaniard Ricky Rubio is the latest example - but has been virtually unheard of in American basketball.
Unlike Jennings, Tyler's move abroad was motivated by a desire to develop his game, rather than by financial considerations. In fact, he turned down a bigger offer from Ljubljana, among others, to come to Israel. The opportunity to play internationally without the added pressure of the Euroleague could prove to be a wise move on Tyler's behalf.
Haifa coach Avi Ashkenazi says Tyler's adjustment will depend on his level of emotional maturity. "It's always a risk with someone this young but with his high level of ability and high motivation, we felt we had to take a chance. We'll do what we can to ease the way. This will be his first time out of the U.S. and his father will be with him in the beginning. We are not expecting him to be a star, but with his motivation we're expecting him to be contributing within a half a year."
Ashkenazi would be more than happy if the Tyler experiment works out like Devon Jefferson. The forward who left the University of Southern California after one season but unexpectedly went undrafted was another "high potential, high risk" case that Haifa took upon itself last season.
By the end of the season, Jefferson was one of the top players in the Israeli league, and has signed again with Haifa for this year.
Tyler's presence will be another reason to watch Maccabi Haifa, the league's surprise team a year ago which still seems to be on the rise. If Tyler fulfills his immense potential, Israeli fans will be able to say they got the first glimpse of a future NBA star.
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