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Monday, Jan. 26, 2009 | Jeremy Tyler is the nationally ranked big man from San Diego High with a multi-million dollar NBA contract in his near future.
Paris Johnson, a San Diego State sophomore, is the San Diego High grad who was a nationally ranked there, although millions aren’t awaiting her with a WNBA career.
Essentially, the 6-foot-4 Johnson was two years ago what the 6-11 Tyler is now: One of the top high school post players in the nation.
But the difference between the money and the pressures surrounding their games is a Grand Canyon-esque chasm. You could see the difference from watching their respective games Friday and Saturday.
Tyler had people trying to make money off him when San Diego High faced Los Angeles Fairfax and Renardo Sidney, another nationally ranked big man, in a made-for-TV event broadcast nationally by ESPN2.
It was an ugly game, with Tyler and Sidney, each jawing and shoving at the other and playing one-on-one basketball for the benefit of ESPN’s cameras. Neither appeared to be having fun, although Sidney at least enjoyed an 86-47 victory in the debacle of a game.
I haven’t spoken to anyone who wasn’t turned off by what they saw, including a prominent San Diego High alum — Johnson herself.
“I know Jeremy,” Johnson said, “and I know he’s a better person than that.”
In Johnson’s own game, playing like the national recruit she was when SDSU head coach Beth Burns convinced her to stay home, she led the Aztecs to a dominating 56-36 win over Mountain West Conference contender Brigham Young.
Johnson contributed a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. The Aztecs are starting to look like a team that can earn an NCAA tournament bid and be a host for the NCAA West sub-regional scheduled at Cox Arena.
With SDSU leading BYU 41-19 midway through the second half, Burns rested Johnson. The Aztecs’ team leader spent the rest of the game cheering from the bench. One time, she ran out as far as half-court with a towel over her shoulder to greet teammates during a timeout.
From the smile on her face, she looked like she was having a lot of fun.
“I think the women’s game now is what the men’s game used to be a few years ago,” said Brigham Young women’s coach Jeff Judkins. “The women come to college to get a degree and they stay four years. They don’t play selfishly. They aren’t trying to get on ESPN.”
Judkins provides an opinion from a unique perspective. He played at Utah and then five years in the NBA. After his playing career, he coached 10 years at Utah under then-head coach Rick Majerus when the Utes were a national power, including an 1998 NCAA runner-up finish. This is his eighth year as BYU’s women’s head coach.
“I noticed a big change when I was with Majerus at Utah and we started getting better players,” Judkins said. “When I played, we dreamed of playing in the NBA, but we wanted a degree, too. Now there is more pressure from the money. The coaches are part of it too. You didn’t used to see coaches jumping programs for the big bucks.”
This “fun factor” comparison I’m postulating is nothing against Tyler. I like Jeremy. I’ve talked to him several times. He’s friendly, thoughtful and respectful.
A year ago, one could admire the healthy respect he had for 7-footer Jeff Withey, a San Diegan who was a senior last year at Horizon High. You could see it when they greeted each other and talked at awards events we had at the San Diego Hall of Champions (my day job).
Last year Tyler and Withey faced each other in the Martin Luther King Classic played at Hoover High. It’s an annual local event, so the match-up came about naturally.
In contrast, Tyler’s game Friday night against Los Angeles Fairfax and 6-10 Renardo Sidney was created by TV. The TV hype and pressure created the animosity between Tyler and Sidney.
One of the sponsors of the ESPN2 telecast was the U.S. Marine Corps, and the Marines should ask for their money back. There were few good men involved in letting this event play out the way it did.
At one point, Fairfax was leading by 44 points with about 2:30 to play. The 6-10, 250-pound Sidney was not only still in the game, he took the ball inbounds, dribbled the length of the court and played one-on-one basketball on his way to scoring.
He never once looked to pass. He never looked to his bench and said,
“Hey, Coach, let some other guys play.” Not when ESPN’s cameras were rolling.
And this was about a minute after Tyler had fouled out of the game, meaning Sidney was embarrassing high school kids that aren’t college prospects.
About a minute earlier, when Tyler was still in the game, the jawing and shoving between the two was turning so tense, a referee blew his whistle to stop play. He quickly approached veteran Fairfax coach Harvey Kitani.
I could hear the ref tell Kitani, “Coach, substitute No. 1 (Sidney) out of the game!”
The referee then covered his mouth — like you see baseball pitchers do in a conference on the mound with their catcher or manager — as he huddled up with Kitani. Sidney never came out of the game, so I can only guess that Kitani reminded the referee that ESPN was paying to show Sidney playing, not sitting on the bench.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. This is what one scouting service, DraftExpress NBA, wrote about Sidney at an AAU tournament last summer:
“Sidney was being coached by his father at this AAU event, which helps begin to explain the type of circus we’re dealing with. He shot a lot of turnaround jumpers in the lone game we saw him, played absolutely zero defense and generally did his best Antoine Walker/Derrick Caracter impression.”
That’s the kind of circus high school boys basketball has become when coaches without education degrees aren’t involved.
A couple of decades ago the NCAA shifted recruiting to the summer and AAU basketball to take the pressure off the high school coaches. Now, there have been so many scandals with AAU coaches and shoe companies making money off kids, the pendulum is shifting back the other way.
The San Diego High coach, Martin Thomas, can be excused. He’s been placed in an untenable position after being promoted from the JV coach last week.
He’s not much older than Tyler, but he’s had to fill the vacancy created by the San Diego Unified School District when it placed head coach Kenny Roy and his two assistants on administrative leave.
The move was a result of the CIF San Diego Section office having ruled that three high-profile college prospects that transferred to San Diego High were ineligible for rules violations and undue influence.
Perhaps San Diego Unified should consider bringing in one of the district’s respected retired basketball coaches, Bill Petersen or Rick Eveleth, to coach the team on an interim basis. There’s still a lot of basketball to be played, and Tyler isn’t getting the coaching he should be receiving for a player of his stature.
The atmosphere couldn’t have been more different on Saturday afternoon when I saw Johnson dominate before 2,792 fans, the second largest crowd to turn out for a women’s game at Cox Arena. The atmosphere was electric, and Burns’ coaching is elevating Johnson’s game.
“I’m happy,” said Johnson, who turned several big-time programs to stay home.” This is what we’ve been working for.”
One final contrast between the Friday and Saturday games I noticed was
that Johnson and her teammates wore pink headbands. The gesture was a tribute to Kay Yow, the legendary North Carolina State women’s coach that died of cancer earlier in the day.
Yow was on the minds of the women’s players.
The San Diego High and Fairfax players weren’t wearing headbands, but it would have been fitting if ESPN had provided headbands with a dollar sign replacing the ‘S’ in ESPN.
Money was on the minds of the ESPN executives and the Fairfax and San Diego High adults who put this game together. And they put too much of that attitude in the minds of the players.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to the editor.