Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008 | San Diego High’s Jeremy Tyler is a 6-foot-11 sophomore that might be our next McDonald’s High School All-American in boys basketball. He’s already ranked the No. 1 sophomore in the nation.

So it’s fitting that he wanders across the street from campus to the McDonald’s restaurant located at Park Blvd. and A Street, although that’s nothing new for students at San Diego’s oldest high school.

San Diego High alum Stephen Neal, a New England Patriots offensive guard with three Super Bowl rings, did the same until he graduated in 1994. Neal would chomp into some kind of a giant double-burger named for Junior Seau, then a Chargers linebacker.

But a big burger with cheese and plenty of fixings doesn’t fit Tyler’s mobile game. You won’t see a kid his size run the court better than him. He has the wheels of a 6-7 forward.

“I had a McChicken,” Tyler, a 255-pounder, said before a practice last week.

In fact, if something lean suits Tyler, maybe he should wander down to the café at the Hall of Champions (my day job). The menu includes a sandwich named for another San Diego legend. A “Bill Walton” is sprouts, lettuce, tomato, avocado and sliced cucumber.

“A big man running the floor; what gets better than that?” Tyler asked rhetorically. “If I can beat my big man down the court, somebody else has to guard me, and I know a (smaller) player can’t guard me.”

Not one-on-one anyway, which is why Cavers head coach Ken Roy and assistant Jerome Sherman, a former La Jolla High athlete, keep Tyler on the run. A common defensive tactic against a big man, especially in high school, is to have two or three smaller players hack him.

The Cavers counter by starting Tyler closer to the perimeter — he has a classic-looking jump shot from 18-foot — to prevent double- and triple-team schemes. Then, from the perimeter, Tyler rotates low to post up defenders.

He averages 18.6 points and 15 rebounds a game for San Diego, which opens the CIF San Diego Section Division I playoffs Tuesday night at home against Carlsbad.

The Cavers, the No. 3 seed behind No. 1 seed El Camino and No. 2 Torrey Pines, hope to become the first public school from the City Conference to win a large-school division title in boys basketball since Morse in 1987. The Cavers last won a CIF boys basketball title in 1975.

“If we can bring this school a championship, that would be great for everyone,” Tyler said. “We’ll be happy, our seniors will be happy and our alums will be happy. We want to win a CIF championship, and, if possible, go to state.”

Tyler’s school pride is telling, especially if you’ve heard the rumors he’ll transfer to Santa Ana Mater Dei after his brother, James, a 6-2 senior guard, graduates.

“I’ve been hearing he’s going to transfer from the first day he got here,” Roy said. “He’s still here.”

Tyler also dismisses the talk.

“This team has made me better as a young man,” Tyler said. “The players here motivate me. They talk to me and tell me I’ve got to do this or do that. Now I’m talking to them on the court, too. This school has helped me a whole lot.”

Tyler certainly doesn’t need a higher-profile school to attract attention. Roy and Tyler’s father, James Sr., screen all contact with Jeremy. So far, Roy says they’ve heard from every major coach in the country but Duke’s Mike Krzyewski.

North Carolina’s Roy Williams has been calling, so the Cavers coach expects to hear from Kryzewski eventually. Tyler carries a 2.8 grade-point average.

A player with Tyler’s credentials usually doesn’t have San Diego State or USD on his radar, but Roy says it’s too soon to write off Tyler’s interest in staying home.

“At this present time, he is considering everyone,” Roy said. “San Diego State and USD are improving programs, but they need to show a presence. They shouldn’t just assume they don’t have a chance to recruit him. What would that say about their program? I know this: Jeremy loves San Diego, so you never know.”

Oddly enough, the buzz around town about Tyler has been slower to build.

One reason is he played last year in the shadow of Jemelle Horne, now at Arizona. Without Horne’s presence, Tyler’s game is more active this year.

Another reason is after he gained that No. 1 sophomore ranking in the nation, tournament sponsors were willing to fly the Cavers around the nation.

That meant San Diego High became a traveling team. The Cavers played in the Amare Stoudemire Invitational in Florida, the Neosho Classic in Missouri and Big Apple Classic in New York.

Back in San Diego, he’s faced uninspiring Eastern League competition, although there was a non-league game against Horizon 7-footer Jeff Withey, bound for Arizona, in the MLK Showcase at Hoover.

Withey and Tyler both had their moments, although foul trouble from whistle-happy referees limited the time they faced each other. Withey scored 18 and Tyler finished with 12.

One criticism I’ve heard of Tyler is he talks to opponents too much on the court, but I know in high school sports today, that’s a reflection of kids imitating bad behavior they see from pro athletes on TV.

While chatting with him, I didn’t sense that attitude from him. He’s engaging in conversation. That’s something else that separates him, since most big men are usually reserved.

Tyler can talk and he can run. And when he wanders across the street to McDonald’s, he doesn’t order those Junior Seau-like burgers that would slow down his game.

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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