Basketball Jeremy Tyler's Third Act

Former Maccabi Haifa bust matured this past season with some tough love.

Jerry Mittleman
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Jerry Mittleman

Most Israeli basketball fans remember Jeremy Tyler as the American teenager who was a total disaster during his season with Maccabi Haifa in the Super League. Tyler averaged about two points, two rebounds and two temper tantrums a game before packing up his bags and returning to his native San Diego in March 2010.

In the summer of 2009, the 17-year-old, 6'10" (2.06m ) Tyler made the seemingly ill-advised decision to forgo his junior and senior seasons of high school basketball to play professionally outside of the U.S.

Tyler (8) of the Tokyo Apache shooting during a game against the Shimane Susanoo Magic in January in Tokyo.Credit: AP

Tyler was considered a future top NBA draft choice, and his unprecedented move drew wide attention in the American media.

Maccabi Haifa gave Tyler a two-year, $140,000 annual contract. According to Avi Ashkenazi, Haifa's coach at the time, they were hoping for a young phenom "who would contribute in his first season and then blossom the following year." They forgot the basketball adage that "big men often develop slowly." What Tyler, aged 18 and alone in a foreign land, needed was a personal tutorial in how to become a basketball player and a young adult.

Today, several days before Thursday night's draft, Tyler has become an intriguing prospect for NBA teams and is projected to be chosen in the latter part of the of the first round or, at worse, at the start of the second. According to ESPN draft maven Chad Ford, talent-savvy franchises like the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs are both considering selecting Tyler with their first round pick.

The NBA draft, which commences Thursday night, is all about potential with a capital P, something that the agile and athletic Tyler has in abundance. The old joke about basketball players went that "you can't teach height." The in thing in the NBA world is that "length" also can't be taught, and Tyler's 7'5" (2.26m ) wingspan has league scouts drooling.

Tyler finally received the personal and professional growth experience he was hoping for - but didn't get in Israel last year - when he joined the Japanese pro league's Tokyo Apache this past season. Tokyo coach Bob Hill, 62, became the coach/mentor/father figure that Tyler desperately needed. Hill is a veteran with firsthand experience in the NBA wars, as a head coach for four NBA teams over nine seasons. He took a "tough love" approach toward Tyler. After several clashes with Hill during the year, Tyler ended his stay in Japan as a totally different person than he was in Israel; hustling, diving for loose balls, practicing hard and soaking up knowledge.

He averaged 10 points and six rebounds per contest in his 15 games in Japan. This was certainly an improvement over his performance in Israel, though hardly eye-popping stats. More importantly, his best performances came toward the end of the season, including a 24-point effort in one of his last games.

His season ended on a highly different note than last year, which concluded in failure and frustration. Tyler returned to the States when league officials canceled the remainder of the Apache's season after Japan's tsunami disaster.

To Tyler's credit, he no longer has sour grapes about his time in Haifa, saying his two years of international ball was a very difficult but important learning experience and if he had it to do it over again, he would make the same decision.

Over 70 years ago, the famous American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "There are no second acts in American lives," referring to the overbearing expectations that American society can place on talent and youth (LeBron James, anybody? ). Still, America as an immigrant society has also always served as a land of redemption, and Tyler admits he's fortunate that some of his worst moments took place far away from the States.

The start of Jeremy Tyler's third act will begin in a few days.



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