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Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Jeremy Tyler is the Talk


Jeremy Tyler, the teenager who has announced he is skipping his senior year of high school to play professionally in Europe, is the person everyone is talking about. (Here's a good roundup of opinions.)

It's no secret that Tyler, like Brandon Jennings, is going to Europe in consultation with and under the guidance of baskerball power broker Sonny Vaccaro. 

It's also no secret that Vaccaro has an axe to grind with the NCAA -- he has toured the nation lecturing about it.

So, one school of thought is that Tyler is a pawn in Vaccaro's great game.

Which may be so! You'd have to spend a year digging in to get the whole truth of that story.

There are also people who are just up in arms about how terrible it is that poor Jeremy will not get to develop the kinds of relationships and things that are part of finishing high school.

I agree! It's a bummer he'll miss out on his prom, his friendships, and some aspects of being a kid.

But whoa whoa whoa. Let's not pretend everything's all perfect if he stays, and all terrible if he goes.

For one thing, how sure are we that players in American colleges aren't the exploited pawns of powerbrokers? Any number of people have written about how this works.

The bigger point, though, is that living in Europe is far from the worst thing that can happen to a kid. If his high school had some kind of semester in Europe program, most people would think Tyler would be lucky to go.

I once interviewed a couple who fostered a zillion children. Some of the most informed and experienced parents you could possibly imagine. The dad told me that he was convinced that the worst thing you could do to a child was keep them at home too much. The more they got out and saw things, in his view, the better their chances of succeeding in life.

It's no small thing to know in your bones that there are people out there who don't talk and think like you do. It's no small thing to have people and places you know in Barcelona, Rome, Paris or Berlin. It's no small thing to be able to order food in more than one language.

It's also no small thing to be in elite professional basketball development all day.

And it's not like the people who emerge from this system, who have missed all those formative school experiences, turn out to be victims. Walk around an NBA locker room. Those guys who spent their formative teen years in European professional basketball development -- are they at some kind of social disadvantage compared to their counterparts who got to go to American high schools and colleges?

My eyes are wide open here. I don't think Jeremy Tyler's path is optimized whether he stays or goes. The perfect model doesn't exist, and the reality is that very talented and valuable people who are very young always have a likelihood of being exploited.

But to pick one of these models as terrible, and another as perfect ... I don't see it.

To me the best part of all is having more than one system, which is new. There was not much pressure on the NCAA to prepare athletes better than anybody else (whether for basketball or life after basketball). They got all the athletes!

But now there is a competitive market for elite talent, and the pressure is on to establish programs that get the best possible long-term results. And if I were a player, I'd want to be in the program that best prepared me to succeed in my job as a player. The duties of that job including all the on-court stuff, and hiring an agent intelligently, working with coaches and GMs, understanding sponsorships and brands, post-basketball careers, relationships and everything else that goes into success.