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Friday, April 24, 2009
Is Tyler making a good decision?

By Fran Fraschilla and Doug Gottlieb
ESPN.com

Editor's note: Men's college basketball analysts Fran Fraschilla and Doug Gottlieb weigh the pros and cons of high school junior Jeremy Tyler's decision to drop out of high school and pursue playing professionally in Europe.

Fran Fraschilla: What's the big deal?

One of the nation's best big men in the class of 2010, junior Jeremy Tyler of San Diego, is dropping out of high school and will sign a professional contract in Europe before pursuing his dream of playing in the NBA.

I think it is a calculated gamble on his part, but I like it.

Jeremy Tyler
Jeremy Tyler had committed to Rick Pitino and Louisville before deciding to take his game overseas.
First of all, the cynical side of me says that he is making this decision based on the money, although he could be financially taken care of had he not taken this route, whether by an unscrupulous agent or by a college program before he earns the real money as an NBA first-round pick.

But if Tyler picks the right European professional team and coach, he will be able to focus solely on improving as a basketball player for the next two years before entering the NBA draft. He will get more coaching in his first two weeks on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean than he has had in his entire life up to this point. In fact, his schedule on a typical day, once he arrives in Europe in August, will consist of a team practice with another session spent on skill development or weight training every day.

I have always felt that the "sweet spot" for one's basketball skill development happens between the ages of 16 and 21. After that, it's as much about getting smarter and stronger as a player as anything else. Of course, it's incumbent on Tyler, who some label an underachiever, to put the time and work into what he does with his new team. But that would also be true if he had chosen the traditional path to college.

In my view, Tyler essentially would be wasting his time playing the role of student-athlete in high school or prep school next season before arriving on Louisville's campus about 14 months from now. Rick Pitino, who has developed more than his share of NBA players, would really have Tyler only from August until March or April to coach him anyway.

The club system in Europe will allow him to grow at his own pace. I doubt seriously that he would help a top team in Spain or Italy next season because that is a level above any college league in America. Think of it as the Triple-A of hoops. It is serious basketball.

However, every one of the high-level teams in Europe has, essentially, a "farm system" that would allow Tyler to face an excellent level of basketball, but at his own pace. In fact, this season, in Spain's LEB, the league below its best league (ACB), former college stars like Kansas' Wayne Simien, Boston College's Danya Abrams and Vermont's Taylor Coppenrath competed. So Tyler will be tested, regardless of where he starts his pro career.

If he can make the adjustment to Europe's highest level and is a contributor on a quality club by the end of his second season, he will be 19 years old with an NBA stock going through the roof. And if it takes a little longer for the light to come on, so what?

Some feel that Tyler will be giving up the instant exposure of a freshman season in college basketball for relative obscurity for two years. If you ask me, that is irrelevant. Kansas is on television more than "Regis and Kelly," and hundreds of sets of NBA eyes were on former KU star Mario Chalmers for three years. But even his Final Four heroics could not land him a spot in the first round.

During his rookie season, Chalmers started 81 of 82 regular-season games for the Miami Heat and is currently starting at point guard in the playoffs.

I laugh at the suggestion by some that Jeremy Tyler is giving up his childhood for the big, bad world of professional sports. Almost any player who has been around the unseemly world of high-level, high school and summer basketball in the United States, like Tyler has, long ago gave up his basketball innocence. If anything, this is a business decision not unlike sending one's mid-teenaged son or daughter out on the professional tennis or golf circuits. It's a risk that could pay off. Pun intended.

The maturity that will come with being away from Southern California the next two years and dealing with another language and culture will be just as much, if not more, of an education than sitting in a Sociology of Sports class or in a campus study hall.

The bottom line is that there is a high likelihood that Jeremy Tyler will play in the NBA. Whether he becomes a solid NBA player or not will be determined by how much time and effort he puts into his game and not where he spends the next two years.

The one-fifth of the NBA that comes from places like Serbia, Germany, Spain and Italy can tell you that.

Doug Gottlieb: Is this really the best move?

Jeremy Tyler
Tyler had committed to Louisville, but will play professionally in Europe until he is eligible for the NBA draft in two years.
As a former Division I college athlete who played professionally in three different countries, I am vehemently opposed to Jeremy Tyler dropping out of high school and taking his game overseas to sign a professional contract with a European team. His actions, and the support he gets from his father and from "strategic adviser" Sonny Vaccaro, leave me with more questions than answers.

When did our society become completely and totally focused on the paper chase and not on the substance of the human being chasing the paper?

I have heard the argument, "he can go and get paid," too many times, as if that is the trump in the argument. Whatever happened to working to achieve greatness, not having it handed to you on a silver platter before you are ready? We have seen Michelle Wie take the road of becoming a trailblazer, joining the professional ranks in women's golf shortly before her 16th birthday. Yet the criticism leveled against her is that she has never even won on the women's tour, thus making her foray into playing against professional men's players even more questionable.

Jeremy Tyler is good, but by no means the greatest high school player we have ever seen. Instead of learning to win and improving in high school, Tyler is going to chase the almighty dollar before he has even proved he can lead a winning team at the high school level (his team was 15-11 this past season). "Well, he is going to get paid" is not really a sound argument.

If it is acceptable for Tyler to leave high school after his junior year to play professionally, when does it not become OK to leave? Tyler is setting a dangerous precedent by making this move. What about a sophomore or a freshman making a similar decision? Why even have high school at all?

One must also consider that now any high school player who is decent might believe this is his way out. A way out of a practice that's held too early in the morning. A way out of running his high school coach's offense. A way out of algebra class. A way out of detention. By enabling Tyler, you sow the seeds of discontent throughout high school basketball.

The old Soviet Union had "athlete-only" schools. Are we proposing that is the best way to develop our athletes and keep them from leaving the country?

Where is the value on getting an education? A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but Tyler's handlers are not concerned with his brain, only his brawn. Tyler is not even going to finish his junior year academically, let alone begin his senior year. That means he's forfeiting all the experiences that come with high school -- no prom, no cap and gown, no SAT, no college, just hoops from here on out. Have we really gotten to this point?

Brandon Jennings
Brandon Jennings had difficulty adjusting to playing professionally in Europe after bypassing college.
Basketball has afforded me so many wonderful opportunities outside of the gym, I cannot fathom shunning all of them to simply make money as soon as possible. Are we asking that much of a kid to have him trudge through one more year of high school, one year of college at Louisville before heading off to the NBA? The truth is that all of that time allows Tyler more opportunities for failure, so this is the easy way out to avoid that possibility.

Maybe the most important thing in Tyler's case is the fact that I am not really sure what his true value is to a professional team at 17 years old. As we have seen with Brandon Jennings, even the very best 18-year-old in high school basketball does not always garner major minutes at a high level in the pro leagues in Europe. Jennings was the very best high school player in the country and a year older than Tyler, yet he has not played at all in a couple of games and is averaging just five points per game in the Italian League.

While Jennings is contracted to make somewhere near $300,000, like most bad contracts, his will not be duplicated on another player (Tyler) since he has not worked out. A team might sign Tyler only in order to let him develop for three or four years, and you would expect a contract like that to include a Ricky Rubio-type buyout ($6 million). In other words, Tyler might actually take longer to get paid in the NBA by going this route.

It should also be noted that most published figures of overseas salaries are heavily inflated. As Jennings alluded to, based on his experience in Italy, players often do not get paid on time or receive all of what is owed them in their contract when their stint with a team does not go well. If Tyler flames out in Europe, what does he have to come home to?

I am willing to believe that Jeremy Tyler could mature and progress as a player while getting paid. He is an immense talent, but one who is reputed to have some issues with discipline, something that will simply not be tolerated by any coach from any player, let alone a young player.

Will Tyler benefit from making basketball his life at such a young age? He'll be practicing twice a day, while learning a new language and getting used to a new culture. It could be a tremendous experience for him personally, but far too often players go overseas without taking advantage of the experience of living in a new country. They spend their time hanging out in their apartments, watching movies and living on the Internet instead of submerging in a new culture and putting the experience to good use. Thus, they may live in a country they barely know and spend their time simply chasing the "cheddar."

Doug Gottlieb is a college basketball analyst for ESPN.