Jeremy Tyler watched the 2009 drafts from L.A. The 18 years old teenager, one of the biggest high school basketball stars around the US, was sitting in front of the TV screen, watching the future players of the NBA getting on stage one after the other, shaking the hand of commissioner David Stern, who has just announced their draft, wearing their new team's cap and dressed in fancy suits.
On the recesses between each pick, those five stressful moments where potential candidates – from San Francisco, Spain and even Israel – bit their nails in great stress, anxiously waiting to know whether their name will be the next to show up on screen, Tyler allowed himself to try and imagine the moment where he will be the one sitting in the back room of Madison Square Garden with his family and agent, waiting to hear Stern's voice announcing his name.
"During the broadcasting of the draft on TV, I imagined myself in this situation," Tyler told on a phone call all the way from L.A. this week. "I have dreams and I want to be drafted first on the NBA. But this will only happen with hard work and commitment. When time comes, it will happen."
Next season will probably be your time to be a candidate for the draft.
"That's right. On the one hand, next season I will be a candidate for the draft. On the other hand, it depends on the contract that I sign with the team."
If it wasn't for the law affixing that in order to be picked for the draft you have to reach a minimum age, do you think you could have bee picked on the lottery draft by this year or by next year?
"You could ask a lot of players this question, and they would tell you, 'I hope so, I really hope so.' But when you have passion like I have, and you know like I know that I will train hard every single day, you will also know where I'm going to be.
And I know that I want to be the first pick of next year's draft or of any draft that I apply to. So what I'm about to do is work very hard, because right now I'm in a mission – to be the best I can be. My goal right now is to be the first pick on the NBA draft after high school or after I'm done playing with any team I'll be in. This is my goal."
Brandon Jennings, who's also left high school, gave up college and went off to play in Europe, was picked tenth on the 2009 draft. He's pretty much pioneering for you.
"He was drafted tenth and didn't play much in Italy. I hope that the country I reach will give me enough game minutes for me to show my ability, and then I'll be picked first on the draft.
I know Brandon. We're friends. I am very happy and proud that he was picked on the draft. As far as I'm concerned, I'm willing to go to another country, win championship there and have it be proud of me. And then come back and do what I can in the NBA."
Jefferson and I
When Tyler speaks of playing in another country, he means Israel, at least at this point. During the past few weeks there has been a race trying to get at the US's nearly definite NBA potential, with the happy winner expecting not only an experience with the arrival of a future all-star, but also a massive interest from worldwide media, interested in the young talent who's supposed to burn the parquet. Alongside senior teams from Greece and Spain, Maccabi Haifa's name is shining, while, surprisingly, being the leading candidate to perceive Tyler.
"These aren't rumors, it's the truth," Tyler clarifies the developing contact with Haifa right away.
"I haven't signed yet and I am waiting for the best opportunity and for the best situation.
At the moment, Maccabi Haifa is the best situation for me. The city of Haifa is one of the best places in my aspect, since everyone speak English there, it's a very nice place and it has an excellent basketball team."
What have you heard of Maccabi Haifa?
"I heard that the team is quite good. I know that it lost last year on the championship game and that it is still at developing stages. If I'll arrive there, I want to make the team a better team in order to win championship."
Did you hear of specific players in the team?
"I know Devon Jefferson. We're friends and we got to know each other well the past few years. We met in L.A. when he was in high school and we played against each other. Devon is an excellent player and a great person. He told me that Haifa will be a great experience for me, that Israel is a great country and a great place to play in. I got really into it, and he told me that it is probably the best city for me. This is why we're checking this out seriously, just because I've heard recommendations from someone was is there and plays there."
Did you hear of additional players or of someone else from the team?
"Devon Jefferson is the only player I've heard of. I haven't heard of Doron Perkins, only of Devon."
How did the option of you playing in Maccabi Haifa come up in the first place?
"I don't really know. My agent told me that Israel is interested. Beyond that, Israel sounds like a real cool place to be in, and if I arrive there, I intend to work real hard in order to succeed."
What did you hear about basketball in Israel?
"I heard that there's a league there with a relatively small number of teams, and without too many tall players. I am 2.11 m. and I suppose that I will be one of the tallest players in this league. I'm ready to play in this league."
Do you know that Haifa won't play in a European project after all?
No, the team waived off its participation.
"I didn't know, but it won't influence my decision whether to arrive there or not."
Rumors around Europe and Israel say that there are big teams from Spain and Greece who also want you. What do you know about it?
"The only team that I know about is Maccabi Haifa. I know that there's interest of other teams, but from what I understand, we're mainly talking with Haifa. I'm going to arrive where it's going to be best for me, and if Haifa is the best opportunity for me, this is where I'm going to be. If it won't be Haifa, it will be in some other country. At this stage, I think that there's a good chance that I'll sign in Haifa."
If you do sign here, what will we get from you? Points? Dunks? Assists? Rebounds?
"What you're going to see from me is a lot of wins. You will see championship. It's quite enjoyable to see me play, because I do it well. I like to dunk, score, get rebounds, pass. But the most important thing for me in any team that I'll reach is to win and get championship."
You're actually saying that Maccabi Haifa has a good chance to win championship with you?
"Not a only a good chance, a great chance to win championship."
What have you heard of basketball in Europe since you chose to go on and play pro in Europe?
"I heard that it's not easy to play in Europe. In fact, it's really hard. There are a lot of tall, strong players and such with individual abilities. There is real hard competition in Europe, but I think that I can fit in it and be good because of my character as a player. I want to adjust my game to anywhere I'll be in."
Aren't you afraid of the high standards, the competitiveness?
"No, not at all, because this is how I'm going to prove myself. I've never had a problem in any team I played in, in all that regards to competitiveness and standards. If I feel that I'm not good enough, it means that I'll work twice harder and double my training before and after practice and games, so that I won't be in a situation where I'm not as good as the rest. Because I don't just want to be good or equal to the others. I want to be beyond the rest. I want to be the best player I can be."
LeBron and I
How good is Jeremy Tyler? Let's leave for a moment the fact that the young kid who recently finished his Junior year and celebrated 18 years from his birth, is considered one of the top 5 players of the United States for his age level. For quite a few American basketball persons and for those who surround the basketball branch, Tyler is a phenomenon that attracts players from the whole west coast who want to play with him at the same side of the court, and marketing persons of production and sports companies, who understand that this brand called "Jeremy Tyler", can help them turn money into gold.
It wasn't for nothing that Tyler's team was called in for tournaments in Hawaii and Ohio, or got to have one of its games, which ended with their loss, broadcasted from coast to coast on ESPN.
Tyler is the reason for that. With 28.7 points in average per game, over ten rebounds and a defense presence which creates countless blocks, Tyler is, in fact, a one man monster.
You can ask Carson Graham's players from Canada, who had 40 points, 22 rebounds and 12 blocks from Tyler on the opening game of the high school basketball season.
On the other hand, Tyler, and got a few personal excelling titles, did not manage to lead his high school to win the best balance of the high school league of their district, and he has also got criticized by basketball and academy personnel due to his decision to throw away his last study year in San Diego High School, waived off the commitment he made to the University of Louisville– coached by the legendary Rick Pitino – and go on to play in Europe.
As for Tyler, this is a decision with no way to go back. He knows his value, maybe in an exaggerated way, as he speaks of his abilities and about his potential, and sees himself as someone who's in some type of mission, with his final destination is to turn into an NBA superstar. And yet, he doesn't look back with anger.
"High school was a great experience for me," Tyler explains. "I had fun out there and I learned a lot. I added a lot to my game. If you compare my first year in high school to this present time, you will find two completely different players. As a player of the first season, I was the youngest player in the team who has played against older folks. When I got out there, I told myself I'm not that good, but as the season progressed, I told myself, 'Oh, I'm fitting in well with these guys.' When I didn't play I was always mad, because I love this game that bad.
Now, as I'm more mature and leaving school, my passion for the game is more under control. I can control myself better, control my feelings. Instead of talking throughout the whole game and just being restless, I learned how to just play. A great talent presents itself without words."
As per your high school career and the potential you've presented, people place your name in the same line with LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant, who have also waived off college. What does it make you feel?
"It's a great honor for me that people even think of my name in their context. I feel that I am at the track they were on the way to become a great player. Now it is all up to me. To continue working hard day by day, being concentrated and focused and not to lose my head. One day I want to be at this level. To be the best player I can be. I want to be better than them. These players broke through the path for players like myself, and I want to reach the next level."
Do you see yourself at this level, of an All Star player of the NBA?
"Yes, of course, of course. I want to be an All Stars MVP. This is my goal."
When did you reach the decision that you're giving up college, despite the fact that you made a commitment to the University of Louisville of Rick Pitino, in favor of a professional basketball career in Europe?
"This is a decision that my family and I have been thinking about for quite some time, that it will be the best choice for me to progress and improve. I've always told my dad, 'Dad, I want to be the best player I can be before anyone else does it in my age.' I trained hard at 17 and I was around professional players, and now, at 18, it is a great decision and a great opportunity to move on to Europe. I just took this opportunity when it existed. I'll enjoy it, improve, and everyone will be pleased."
Kobe and I
The main claims revolving Tyler's decision to give up Senior year and a college year in order to move on and play pro in Europe, were mainly referred to Sonny Vaccaro, who is considered as the one responsible for this step. Vaccaro was also the one who aided Brandon Jennings to move on to Europe, and is branded as none of the most influential people of the basketball world in modern days. Vaccaro is the one who signed Michael Jordan on his first advertising contract for Nike and is the one who ran the most significant basketball camp among high school players around the US, where the biggest names reached throughout the years. "I am surrounded with a very tight circle of people who help me, but Sonny is the most significant part of this circle," says Tyler.
"Sonny is my rock. Sonny will always be there for me, on anything that I need. It is a great honor for me to be with someone who is so significant in the basketball world. He is a man who has been with so many big players."
On the other hand, there is great criticism about your decision to leave high school in favor of a career in Europe.
"That's right, because a lot of people think that I'm only leaving in order to skip college, and that is so untrue. I am leaving in order to get better education in another country.
If I come to Haifa, I would like to learn the culture in Haifa, the language, the way people are living out there and other things as well. I would like to fniish high school in Haifa and play basketball. That's why I am not leaving high school, but I'm actually going to get educated overseas. I'm sure I'll mature a lot in a place like Haifa, turn from a child into a man, because I will live in a new country without knowing anyone other than my coaches and teammates.
I will live alone, will have to prepare food for myself and make sure I get in practice on time. I will be on my own. This is something that excites me."
Still, you're 18 and you're supposed to reach a place where you know no one, all alone. How do you feel about that?
"I feel that I chose this life for myself. I always had the option to continue next season in high school and be with my parents. But I chose my fate – and that is to move forward to the next level. I have no regrets about that. I know it'll be hard for me to live alone, but this would have happened some other time anyways, so why not make it happen now? I'm prepared for it and I feel that it's going to be a good experience."
Are you taking into account that there's a possibility that after the two years in Europe you may not make it to the NBA? Throughout the way there may be some injuries, problems with contracts, teams that may decide you're just not good enough…
"Every American boy dreams of playing for the NBA. This is my dream. And if the NBA won't be the best option for me at a given time, then I'll do what's best for me first of all. And if the NBA will be a good opportunity for me in three, four or five years and I'll have to play in Europe in order to improve until then, then that's what it's going to be."
What were your life like as a high school basketball star?
"It's fun, but it isn't all that I am. I love hanging out with friends, dance and be a kid. It's fun to be a basketball star. You walk around the streets and everyone knows you. I enjoyed that a lot. There are also people who want to criticize you and talk against you without any reason. But as time goes by you know how to handle that. When it's time for business, for being an adult, this is what's going to happen, no matter what team I play for."
When did you understand that your talent is suitable to the high levels?
"This was not a long time ago. My father told me, 'You know what, I think you have the potential to become a big star in the NBA.' At the time I thought that I play basketball only for fun, that I'm just a tall guy that does what tall players do. But now, that I fell in love with this game and developed passion to it, I felt that I can take my game to the next level, that I can be an NBA All Star, that I can be a star in any country that I'll play in. That's why I'll continue training hard and keep my drive to be the best."
Do you have a role model in the NBA who you want to be like?
"At the moment, I can't compare myself to anyone in the NBA, but if there is something that I want to have game like his, I would say Hakeem Olajuwon. Athletic, strong, understands the game, scores and passes, does everything. He is someone I would like to resemble to. I've seen a lot of his games, mainly in the playoff, but not face to face."
If I let you choose an NBA team you can play for the in the future, which team will it be?
"I'm a California guy, and every kid from California dreams of playing for the L.A. Lakers. I am going to the Lakers games and I know some of the players personally. I personally know Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza and Jordan Farmar. I met Kobe Bryant a few times and I'm quite sure that he knows who I am."