Monday, April 27, 2009 | Not long ago — before Jeremy Tyler’s stunning announcement he’s skipping his senior year at San Diego High to play professional basketball in Europe — I was talking with a member of the San Diego media whom I respect.
Tyler, a 6-foot-11 junior, has been ranked the No. 1 prospect in the country in his class since his sophomore year. He was projected to be a high draft pick in the NBA, but he would have to wait until 2011. Players aren’t eligible for the NBA draft until a year after their high school class graduates.
But by turning pro in Europe, Tyler can earn a six-figure contract and sign a $2 million endorsement deal with a company such as Under Armour.
That’s the sports apparel company that has been courting Tyler by outfitting his high school team. They no doubt made sure Tyler is aware they made a similar deal with Brandon Jennings last year when he skipped college to play professionally in Europe.
When I mentioned to my colleague I thought Tyler was basically a nice kid despite all the controversy surrounding his high school career and his well-known on-court temper, he scoffed at me.
The tone of contempt surprised me. I think he thought I was nuts or naîve — probably both.
Certainly, over the years some of our San Diego sports legends have justifiably earned their prima donna reputation, but they enjoyed professional success before they went Hollywood on their hometown.
So when I thought about it, I realized my colleague — and by extension the rest of San Diego — hasn’t seen Tyler interact with others as a high school kid the way I have.
They only know the Jeremy Tyler who has been influenced by Under Armour, and who knows sneaker companies, hinting at the money he can make with endorsement deals as a pro.
They only know the pro prospect hyped by ESPN for a nationally televised high school game Jan. 23 so the network and its promoters can make money off him.
They only know that San Diego High’s two basketball coaches were let go after three nationally prominent players were declared ineligible for trying to transfer in to play with Tyler. The coaches were reportedly acting to keep Tyler happy so he wouldn’t transfer, but Tyler has denied this.
They’ve only heard about how Tyler routinely yelled at his teammates, which, by the way, was an embarrassing example set by his high school coaches.
There’s also the infamous story from last season’s playoff game at Torrey Pines High when Tyler, who was being taunted by fans, threw a chair after he fouled out. Later he reportedly pounded on a window in anger at the referees inside an office in the visitor’s locker room. I didn’t see it, but a lot of people said they did.
When Tyler is in that environment, it’s ugly. His ESPN2 game against Renardo Sidney of Los Angeles Fairfax was nothing more than a shoving match and one-on-one game between the two kids trying to live up to advertised TV exposure.
None of this can be excused, but I blame the people who have Tyler’s ear for not letting him be a kid.
Sonny Vaccaro, the former sneaker executive that has been advising him to turn pro, strategically released the story of Tyler turning to the New York Times. Makes you wonder why he thought it was so important to give the story to them first.
But I’ve seen Tyler the high school kid, and I still say he’s basically a nice kid when he’s in a high school environment.
When I saw Tyler play against Hoover’s 6-10 Angelo Chol, who succeeded Tyler as the No. 1 sophomore in the country, they were friendly rivals. Their competition wasn’t anything like the bitter match between Tyler and Sidney.
When there was aggressive contact between Tyler and Chol, they both got back to their feet with smiles of respect and pats on the back of the other. After all, this was a high school game, not a made-for-TV event.
As a sophomore, Tyler led San Diego High to its first CIF San Diego Section basketball title since 1975. Those were times when Tyler talked with pride of the accomplishment playing for his high school. Now it’s about how playing for his high school is stunting his development.
Also in 2008, I saw Tyler and 7-footer Jeff Withey of Horizon High, who was a year ahead of Tyler and is now at Kansas, interact at the Hall of Champions (my day job) during awards events. They were good friends that posed for pictures.
At an All-CIF awards ceremony when Withey signed his jersey that he donated to the Hall of Champions to recognize his career blocks record, Tyler came up to me and said that was a goal for him. He sounded like a high school kid at the time.
But it won’t happen now, because he won’t be a high school kid next year. He’ll be a pro in Europe, following the advice of a long line of people trying to make money off him.
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 email@example.com. Or send a letter to the editor.