Basketball Star Drops Out of High School to Play in Europe

April 25, 2009 08:00 PM
by Denis Cummings
Jeremy Tyler’s decision to forgo his senior year of high school to play professionally overseas has many wondering if the idea is a brilliant challenge to the established system or a dangerous precedent.

Prep Star Tyler to Play Professionally Overseas

Jeremy Tyler, a junior at San Diego High School, has withdrawn from school and announced that he intends to play professional basketball in Europe next year. He will be the first American player to leave high school early to play in a foreign professional league.

The 6-foot 11-inch Tyler, who is projected to be one of the first players selected in the 2011 NBA draft, believes that playing professionally will help him prepare for the NBA. He told The New York Times that last season “was boring and I wasn’t getting better,” and said, “If you’re really focused on getting better, you go play pro somewhere.”

Tyler follows the lead of Brandon Jennings, a guard who chose to play this year in Italy rather than accept a scholarship from Arizona. Though he has struggled at times, Jennings is projected to be chosen in the first 10 picks of this year’s draft.

Tyler’s move is being organized by Sonny Vaccaro, a former Nike executive who also negotiated Jennings’ move. “It’s significant because it shows the curiosity for the American player just refusing to accept what he’s told he has to do,” Vaccaro told The Times. “We’re getting closer to the European reality of a professional at a young age. Basically, Jeremy Tyler is saying, ‘Why do I have to go to high school?’”

According to Vaccaro, Tyler is unlikely to receive as much as Jennings’ $1.2 million in salary and endorsements, but he should still receive a six-figure salary. He will be home-schooled and receive his high school diploma through an online program.

Tyler’s father, older brother and uncle will all take turns living with him, providing support through what Jennings said is a difficult experience. “I don’t see too many kids doing it,” Jennings e-mailed The Times in January. “It’s tough man, I’ll tell you that. It can break you.”

Opinion & Analysis: Is Tyler making a smart decision?

Most writers and basketball pundits support Tyler’s decision. “It’s a daring, trailblazing yet well-thought-out move that challenges the bizarre way America develops amateur basketball players,” writes Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel.

“It isn’t the easy way—hanging out in high school, AAU and college is safer and far less demanding—but it is what they believe will be the best way to prepare for the NBA,” Wetzel continues. “It’s exactly what a teenager of comparable talent would do if they were pursuing a career in music, acting, tennis, hockey or even academics.”

AOL’s FanHouse’s Kevin Blackistone also salutes Tyler for doing what is best for his basketball career. “A pro athletic career has a shelf life. The faster he—or anyone like him—can start tapping it, the better off he will be. Doing so for relative slave wages in a major college program shouldn’t be the only option.”

But ESPN analyst Dick Vitale believes that Tyler is making a mistake. “When are kids going to realize that being a kid is an important part of life?” he said. “Some of them want that instant gratification and want to chase that dream of being a pro so quickly they forget about the most important years of their life.”

Eric Crawford of the Louisville Courier-Journal argues that while Tyler is likely making a good decision for himself, it could inspire less-prepared players to foolishly follow his lead. “The damage is that it gives even more high school players motivation to ignore school,” he writes. “It paves the way for more forgotten phenoms who listen to the wrong people.”

Background: NBA Draft eligibility and Brandon Jennings

Prior to 1971, the NBA did not allow players to join the league until four years after they graduated from high school. In 1970, the Seattle SuperSonics signed Spencer Haywood—who graduated from high school in 1967—and took the NBA to court.

In Haywood v. National Basketball Assn., the Supreme Court ruled NBA’s rule violated the Sherman Antitrust Act, opening the doors for players to join the NBA before completing their college careers.

Following the Haywood case, there were a few players who joined the NBA straight out of high school, most notably Darryl Dawkins and Moses Malone. No high school players made the jump between 1976 and 1995, when Kevin Garnett was chosen fifth overall. Garnett’s NBA success inspired other high schoolers to enter the draft, and over the next 10 years every draft had at least one high school player selected.

This all changed in 2005 when the NBA instituted a rule that players must be at least 19 years old and a year out of high school to be eligible. The rule forced prep stars such as Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, who would have otherwise entered the draft, to play one year in college.

Last year Jennings, who had difficulty meeting the NCAA’s academic requirements, decided to skip college and play a season with Italian club Pallacanestro Virtus Roma. “He’s opened the floodgates,” declared Vaccaro. “This is unmistakably a groundbreaking decision.”

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