The Exportation of Jeremy Tyler

Jaime IrvineCorrespondent IApril 30, 2009

Jeremy Tyler, hailed by many as the best big man prospect to come along since Tyson Chandler and Greg Oden, has decided to forgo his senior year to play professionally. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a big deal.

Many collegiate basketball players leave school early to pursue their pro aspirations now-a-days. In fact, of players taken in this June NBA draft, most will be underclassmen.

For example, University of Oklahoma sophomore Blake Griffin is projected to be the #1 overall pick. The difference in Tyler’s situation, however, is he hasn’t enrolled or for that matter stepped foot on a college campus as a student because he hasn’t graduated high school.

Jeremy’s father James, who’s a curiously staunch supporter of the decision, says his son “was bored,” and that he wasn’t “getting the challenge he deserves.” Well I’m sure the younger Tyler will have plenty of challenges awaiting him while he adjusts to the language and culture of a new country, whether it be Spain, Italy or Israel (depending on where the talented 6′11″ forward decides to sign).

He’ll also have the added pressure of trying to live up to what will likely be a multi-million dollar contract, while competing against older more seasoned players, in addition to finding time in his schedule to complete his schooling. A pretty full plate considering that the 17-year old’s on the court demeanor has raised questions about his maturity or lack thereof.

Now you may ask, what would prompt the San Diego high school underclassman to make such a drastic move like heading abroad to fulfill his hoop dreams? Well, there are two glaringly obvious reasons why (at least to me). The first being talent development and second is timing.

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In Tyler’s own words, “Playing with the pro guys will get [a player] a lot better faster.”

And most would agree with this assumption. Especially European professional hoops brass who offer opportunities a plenty to young players.

The shinning example of this is Ricky Rubio. The 18-year old point guard prodigy was twice named the FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year.

Ricky, who is known on a first name basis overseas, was a bolt of lightning off the bench for the Spaniards in the Olympics this past summer and his play was a major reason why his country qualified for the gold medal game against team USA. Rubio is currently starring in the Spanish ACB League, which is considered to be the highest level of competition outside of the NBA, and is definitely a hot topic among NBA talent evaluators.

Though Tyler’s move is radical, it’s the natural progression of a process that was set in motion last year by number one high school prospect Brandon Jennings . The speedy left handed guard out of Oak Hill Academy was originally a University of Arizona commit.

However after not qualifying for the NCAA clearinghouse, he defected to Italy and joined Virtus Roma on the Euroleague A circuit. And now it looks like it was worth it because, despite receiving sporadic minutes in his initial pro season abroad, Jennings is widely considered to be a lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Jeremy may have had a point when he said playing “overseas may not be the best way to get to the NBA, but it’s the best way to get ready for the NBA” (Or at least the draft). But based on the evidence so far I have to agree with the pair of southern California phenoms.

A year from now if Jennings has any measure of success it will likely boost Tyler’s draft stock and open the floodgates for all of those wanting to follow in their footsteps.

Still, you would think that there would be domestic options for young blue chip players like Tyler and Jennings when they are ready to leave high school? Well, there is…College.

Regrettably, it’s pretty much the only one due to the semi-incestuous relationship between the NBA and NCAA. There’s also NBA Developmental League but it has yet to find its niche in the world of sports.

The days where players could declare for the NBA draft straight out of high school are long gone thanks to the age requirement instated by the league as a part of the 2006 Collective Bargaining Agreement. Article X of the agreement states:

The player (A) is or will be at least 19 years of age during the calendar year in which the Draft is held, and (B) with respect to a player who is not an international player (defined below), at least one (1) NBA Season has elapsed since the player’s graduation from high school (or, if the player did not graduate from high school, since the graduation of the class with which the player would have graduated had he graduated from high school)

The Collective Bargaining Agreement (or CBA for short) expires in 2011 which is Tyler’s first year of eligibility. So in order for him to maximize his money earning potential, especially considering the new CBA will most likely drastically reduce rookie salaries in response to the current economic conditions (or potentially raise the minimum age limit), he has to start making money by playing professionally now or as soon as possible.

Originally, the thinking behind the age requirement was that it would help induce high schoolers to enroll in college in the hopes they would stay. And though finishing all four years isn’t required to be in the NBA, it was thought that there would be some increase in diplomas among NBA rookies.

Plus, players would get to experience some college basketball while receiving an education ultimately improving the sophistication of the young players in the league. But, as we’ve seen from the large numbers of college basketball players who declare for the draft before completing their college education, NCAA basketball and all that goes along with it, isn’t necessarily the destination of choice.

Furthermore, in my opinion, the resurgence of the NBA has been fueled by players who made the jump directly from high school. Such is the case with the league’s brightest stars including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard.

If the Tyler’s and Jennings’ trend catches on, David Stern and the NBA may have stumbled on to the perfect platform on which to showcase its young talent to the world. On the other hand he may have created the conditions for his worst nightmare if the talent developed over there never comes back stateside.

Nevertheless until the NBA creates a viable developmental league like baseball and hockey or until young players decided to sit out an extra year (which is unlikely due to the risk of a player’s skills diminishing and/or losing his valuable draft buzz) then you can expect the United States’ growing number of exports to include young basketball players.

Image Source: Courier-Journal