When Jeremy Tyler decided to forgo his senior year at San Diego High and sign with Israel's Maccabi Haifa, visions of Brandon Jennings floated in his head. Jennings, of course, had chosen to bypass the University of Arizona for Italy; the point guard is now averaging 16.0 points and 6.1 assists for the Milwaukee Bucks, and is the likely rookie of the year runner-up to Sacramento Kings guard Tyreke Evans. So for Tyler, a 6'11" forward, the path was clear: Make a few shekels, bust a few moves and wrap things up just in time to shake David Stern's hand in June 2011, when he would be eligible for the NBA draft. But while Jennings's story is inspirational, Tyler's is turning into a cautionary tale—the anti-Jennings. The latest chapter came last week, when the 18-year-old quit Haifa midway through a tumultuous first season.
Tyler's Israeli career appeared doomed from the start. He arrived out of shape; he was labeled a stereotypical entitled American kid; and coaches and teammates were critical of his work ethic. Perhaps most important, unlike Jennings, whose mother and brother accompanied him to Italy, Tyler (who did have longtime friend and teammate Davon Jefferson for support) had no family with him to help him deal with professional, cultural and emotional challenges. During a game last month Tyler, upset that he hadn't played in the first half, changed out of his uniform at halftime and watched from the stands. Not surprisingly, his numbers were underwhelming. In 10 games with Haifa, Tyler averaged 2.1 points and 1.9 rebounds in 7.6 minutes. "He has serious maturity issues," says Jonathan Givony, president and director of scouting of DraftExpress. "He's not that talented where he can be that kind of guy."
Tyler's adviser, Sonny Vaccaro, says Tyler will most likely sign with another European team before the start of next season. Several NBA scouts believe Tyler would be better off in the NBA Development League, where he would be under the auspices of the league's coaches. "He needs to be in the D-League," says a scout. "Forget the money. He needs to show he can play." Givony agrees, citing the example of forward Latavious Williams, out of Christian Life Center Academy in Humble, Texas. Williams passed on more lucrative offers in Europe and opted for the D-League; a solid showing there has improved his draft prospects considerably. For Tyler, then, all may not be lost. "He has another year to correct everything," says Givony. "He just needs to be steered in the right direction."
TARA TODRAS-WHITEHILL/AP (TYLER)
FAMILY MATTERS Tyler (above) lacked Jennings's support system.