Tyler, the Creator
With some puzzling moves behind him, there’s nothing odd about Jeremy Tyler’s NBA future.
by Seth Berkman
After busting his ass in Japan for five months, Jeremy Tyler deserved a day off.
Beginning in October 2010, under the tutelage of former NBA coach Bob Hill, Tyler suited up for Tokyo Apache in the bj league—the Basketball Japan League, the top level of pro ball in Japan. Tyler battled in practice with former Sonics center Robert Swift, and became a student of the game, learning his role from the bench as a reserve power forward.
After Kendall Dartez, a 6-10, 235-pound forward left the team in February, Tyler lobbied to Hill, Tokyo Apache’s head coach, pleading his case that he could be depended on, starting at the four. Hill granted Tyler’s wish on March 10, placing him in the post alongside Swift. Tyler responded with 24 points, 14 rebounds and 4 blocks in a 94-80 win over the Akita Happinets.
The next day, Tyler planned to relax and run a few errands. In the afternoon, he visited a teammate’s house before they planned to go grocery shopping.
That’s when the earthquake hit.
Despite growing up in southern California, Tyler never experienced an earthquake. But when the Tohoku earthquake shook Japan on March 11—registering a 9.0 on the Richter scale—Tyler witnessed the devastation firsthand.
“We felt the major one and all the aftershocks,” says Tyler. “It lasted fifteen minutes. We just kind of ran out the house and didn’t really know what to do.”
Back in the States, as devastating photos graced the front page of the New York Times and YouTube videos captured the brevity in which enormous mudslides forced buildings to collapse, Tyler’s parents tried to get a hold of their son. When he finally spoke to his mother by phone, she was almost uncontrollable.
“My parents were going crazy,” says Tyler. “My mom was calling me, crying, and I just told her everything was going to be OK, not to panic, and have faith.”
Jeremy Tyler, only 19 years old, was able to keep his cool in the middle of Japan’s worst natural disaster. Yes, the same Jeremy Tyler who just months before had become a pariah in the international basketball community.
After leaving San Diego High School after his junior year—and verbally committing to Louisville—Tyler signed with Maccabi Haifa in Israel for one year and $140,000. A projected Lottery pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Tyler said he needed to face better competition to become the next KG or LeBron. But unlike his predecessors, Tyler was the first American to leave high school early to play professionally overseas.
Upon Tyler’s arrival in the Holy Land, he was far from The Chosen One. His teammates called him “soft.” His coach called him “lazy” and “out of shape.” Newspaper articles said he was “naïve” and “immature.” Sonny Vaccaro, his onetime advisor, said Tyler needed to “shut up and go learn,” and ”he obviously isn’t doing that. He thinks that he’s Kevin Garnett.” Even his neighbors complained when Tyler was playing music too loud on Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays.
“Israel was kind of hard for me to adapt,” Tyler admits. “I made a lot of mistakes and I hold myself one hundred percent accountable for those mistakes. I learned from them and that’s what made my year in Tokyo such a wonderful year for me.”
After playing in only 10 games and averaging 2.1 ppg and 1.9 rpg, Tyler quit Maccabi Haifa. No longer was his path to the NBA paved in gold. Tyler had to pay his way to the adidas Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy, where he began to show signs of improvement and maturity, and was named to the All-Star team.
“Everyone had heard bad things and I wanted to show that’s not who I am,” says Tyler. “I couldn’t just tell them, I had to show them. I was named one of the top five players in the camp.”
After Italy, Tyler met Hill in Dallas for a tryout for the Tokyo Apache club. Tyler ended up staying in Texas during the offseason, training with Hill, who became a key teacher in his personal and professional development.
“Bob Hill is one of the most influential people in my life right now,” says Tyler. “He’s been phenomenal to me. He’s also been in my head on how to be a professional, how to carry myself. He’s been in the game for a very long time. He talks, I listen.”
With a mutual respect existing between player and coach, Tyler adapted much more comfortably in Japan. Though the BJ league’s level of competition is not as highly regarded as the Israeli Super League—the level at which Maccabi Haifa plays—Tyler found stiff competition, and a friend, in Robert Swift, whom he was pitted against during every practice.
“Robert Swift is a character,” says Tyler. “He was one of my closest friends out there. We had our ups-and-downs because we had to play against each other every day, but I learned a lot from him. He knows the game. We have a lot in common. Robert taught me everything I’m doing now, in terms of being a big man and impacting the game, and making a big man’s presence inside the game.”
Tyler says there was only one area where he could not keep up with Swift: tattoos.
“I didn’t even try to battle him in that,” Tyler says with a laugh. “But everything else was a battle. Who could jump higher? Who could score the most? Who got the most rebounds? Every night we went out there and we just got it.”
During Tyler’s first start, the March 10 game against the Akita Happinets, all of his hard work with Swift paid off. In addition to Tyler’s double-double, Swift put up 20 points and 20 rebounds.
“It was about to be the beginning of something very special, but the very next day the earthquake happened,” says Tyler.
That game would be Tyler’s last for Tokyo Apache. After the earthquake struck, the season was canceled. Tyler flew back to the United States and many of Tokyo Apache’s Japanese players headed west, away from the aftermath.