Though conventional wisdom says it's a lot easier to succeed in Israel's Premier League than in America's National Basketball Association, Avery Bradley's recent play, and to a lesser extent Jeremy Tyler's, is putting that theory to the test.
Bradley, the Boston Celtics' 21-year-old, second-year guard has been generating quite a buzz in the NBA these days after starting the season with an undistinguished performance at Hapoel Jerusalem during the NBA lockout.
Regarded as young and inexperienced but extremely talented, Bradley never really established himself with coach Oded Katash's squad, and returned to the States after three league contests. Bradley entered the NBA after one season at the University of Texas with a reputation as a defensive genius, but most of his rookie season was wiped out due to injury.
This year, he has drawn raves throughout the NBA as one of the league's best defenders. Never known for his offense and outside shooting ability, Bradley has smoothly replaced injured Ray Allen in the Celtics' starting lineup and averaged over 16 points a game during the past month, including a career-high 28 last Friday. He has been shooting a torrid 45 percent from three-point range and is being touted as a potential star.
Boston was due to play Game 1 of its Eastern Conference quarterfinal sereis against Atlanta last night.
The Israeli league is usually the refuge of fringe NBA players and good American college players who don't make the big league. Rarely do players of Bradley's talent compete here.
Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt says Bradley's youth and inexperience were probably what hurt him most at Hapoel Jerusalem. "Avery came here while Jerusalem was in the middle of their training camp. Because of his youth and inexperience he hadn't yet established himself as a player, and this probably made it harder for him to fit in," said Blatt. "And then Jerusalem had him playing out of position instead of utilizing his strengths, which certainly didn't help."
He adds that regardless of talent, it's harder for a player coming out of high school or a year of college ball to adjust to European basketball than to the NBA. "The expectation level is usually too high, especially for American players, and adjustment to a foreign culture is usually beyond the player's level of maturity," said Blatt.
In Israeli basketball history, the most glaring example of the disadvantages of youth was probably Jeremy Tyler. Two years ago Tyler made the unprecedented jump from his junior year of American high school basketball to the Premier League, landing at Maccabi Haifa. His decision drew international media coverage, which only increased the expectations and pressure on him.
Tyler's stay in Haifa was a colossal failure, professionally and personally. He averaged two points, two rebounds and two temper tantrums a game, and left the country in a huff in mid-season.
Fortunately for him, a season of "tough love" with former NBA coach Bob Hill in the Japanese league last year made Tyler a better player, a more mature individual and NBA draft-worthy. Picked in the second round last June, he has been brought along patiently by Golden State coach Mark Jackson.
Due to injuries on the team, the 20-year-old Tyler cracked the Warriors' starting lineup several weeks ago and gained valuable experience and confidence toward the end of the season. While Tyler averaged 4.9 points per game for the year, he averaged 12.5 points over the Warriors' final six contests of the regular season.