After disastrous decision to leave high school early, Tyler eyes NBA
Jeremy Tyler made history in 2008 went to play professionally in Israel at age 17
Tyler rarely got off bench for Maccabi Haifa and lacked many basic fundamentals
With help of former NBA coach Bob Hill, Tyler grew into fringe first-round prospect
Jeremy Tyler sat fidgeting in a shopping mall, the sort of sterile and charmless building where teenagers dawdle away their days. This was the largest mall in Israel, he said, and also the one with the most American-sounding name: "Grand Canyon." It had a McDonald's and a Sbarro and stores selling Nike and Adidas, and if you ignored the Hebrew script and the teenagers with guns on their backs, you could almost imagine you were in Anywhere, USA.
Tyler didn't get out of the house much, he said, but when he could get a ride, he came here.
He came to work out in the gym, to wander around for a bit, and occasionally to catch a movie if he had a friend in town. But two days before Christmas in 2009, he'd come to defend himself, to talk about a decision and an experiment that many had already labeled a failure.
Tyler made headlines earlier that year when he dropped out of high school after his junior year to play professional basketball with Israel's Maccabi Haifa. By this time, word had already spread to the United States that Tyler was lazy and immature, with little idea of how to properly play the game. Tyler had grown desperately lonely and increasingly frustrated as his season in Israel continued, but as he sat in the food court, his massive legs stretched underneath the table, Tyler expressed no regret for the path he chose.
"I have to face reality," he said. "Everyone is looking at me to see what's going to happen. They want to see if I'm going to succeed or fail. They're curious. I'm curious too. The only difference is that I get to control what happens."
Eighteen months later, consider the results mixed.
Once, Tyler was seen as the top prospect in his high school class. Now, he's just hoping to be selected in Thursday's NBA draft. Tyler is projected in some mocks as a late first-round pick, but questions remain about his attitude, talent and maturity.
But as he prepares for the chance to enter the league, Tyler insists he has no regrets over the path he chose. "I know it was the best decision for me," he says. "I wouldn't trade the experience for anything."
Yet there were moments -- when he sat idle on the bench in Israel, when he passed day after day by waiting for 4 p.m. to arrive and his friends from home to wake up and call, when he made decisions that fed his image as a petulant and immature kid -- when second thoughts likely would have crept in to anyone's mind.
Israel turned out to be nothing like Tyler had hoped. He struggled against advanced competition, no longer able to rely on the athleticism that carried him through high school. The family members who were supposed to move in with him had their visits cut short, leaving him with no friends, no mode of transportation, and nothing to do away from the basketball court. Media reports labeled Tyler as lazy and immature, unable to adapt to life as a pro.
All the while, Tyler received less attention from his team's coaches than from its marketers. He starred in a team-sponsored reality show and had his face plastered on signs all over the city, all while he struggled to get off the bench. There were moments in practice when Tyler looked like the best player on the court, tipping in dunks in transition and swatting the shots all over the floor. But those moments were interspersed with spells of ineptitude -- dropped passes, missed layups, struggles to make rudimentary offensive moves.
When asked at the time, an NBA executive praised Tyler's move to Israel because overseas leagues don't restrict practice time like the NCAA, but in reality, Tyler received little individual instruction. "If he just gave me a little confidence, said something to me in practice, it would make a big difference," Tyler said of then-coach Avi Ashkenazi. "But he doesn't. He just ignores me."