Do You, Jeremy
The Commish says “High School, Schmigh School.”
“They see what they wanna see.” That’s what Jeremy Tyler’s father, James, told me over the phone as we discussed the media ire surrounding his son’s decision to skip his senior season and go play pro ball in Spain.
So, you know what? Shut your traps for a second. Quiet the self-righteous uproar about education for a moment and consider this scenario…
Let’s say you’re son is a 14-year-old closet genius who wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. He spends all his days immersed in aerospace engineering texts and—being the savant he is—manages to build a model-size spaceship in your garage that gets the attention of not only NASA but also the Russian Federal Space Agency, who invites your son to come participate in one of their programs. The program is a quicker, surer, more immediate route to becoming an astronaut, perhaps as soon as the two-year program ends. They’ll pay your son six-figures. But (GASP!) that would mean he has to leave his cornball public school in Fort Lauderdale and get a home school degree while he goes to Russia to get paid a lot of dough to pursue a course that puts him in line realizing his astronaut dreams. Let’s say all this is the case. What’s your advice to your son?
“Son. I think you should stay here, stay bored in high school, and start thinking about the eight, maybe 10 years of college it’ll take to get that PhD in engineering. Enjoy your youth!”
“But, Pops,” he says. “You know what would make me happiest? Becoming an astronaut. High school is boring. I’d rather read this month’s Journal of Propulsion and Power than Langston Hughes. And the seniors in my Physics class are such idiots. This one meathead was watching a porno on his iPhone. I wanna go to Moscow.”
Screw walking across a high school stage to get some piece of paper from a principal who’s breath always smelled like tuna and cigarettes. Completion of that two-year program in Moscow is what this kid needs as an in to his profession of choice. Not to mention, he’ll make hundreds of thousands of dollars while he’s at it.
How is this different from Jeremy Tyler’s situation? This is a 6-11, 260-pound beast from San Diego that is projected as the first pick of the NBA’s 2011 Draft. Instead of wasting another season playing against relative scrubs, for a carousel of coaches, he decided to skip his senior season of high school and head to Spain to make six-figures, play against grown men, train under a pro regimen and get as prepared as possible for his dream—playing in the NBA. Prodigy singers and actors do this all the time. Parents uproot them from whatever crappy school they attend in Alabama and take them to Hollywood or New York City. You think the Olson twins were going to PE class when they were 15? Was Justin Timberlake falling asleep in trigonometry?
And what about sports like tennis and hockey and golf where kids turn pro in their mid-teens all the time? Was anyone deriding the 16-year-old Andre Agassi when he turned pro?
New York Times college reporter Pete Thamel, who broke the Tyler story, followed up his news piece and Tyler-profile with a blog quoting some folks’ reactions. One unnamed NBA exec distilled Tyler’s decision into this perfectly keen question: “Why wouldn’t a player want to earn income as early as they can?”
Thank you, unnamed Western Conference general manager. That’s exactly what I think. If the NBA wants to enforce it’s age-rule that requires a player to be 19 and one year removed from high school in order to be drafted, then you know what I’m telling probable lottery picks like Tyler? “Go get your money, baby.” That and, “Go get your preparation, baby.”
I just can’t see how anyone can argue against a teenager getting paid serious cash in leagues that will better prepare him for the NBA than one year at UCLA or, in Tyler’s case, Louisville.
But then, that’s not what this is about, right, America? This is about education or Tyler’s lack of regard for the esteemed institution and teaching vehicle we know as the public school system.
“You know what? I’d be semi-OK if he were going to Spain after he graduated. But dropping out as a junior to go play ball overseas?! That’s taking it too far!”
Shut up! News flash, rubes—Tyler isn’t dropping out!! He will get his high school diploma through Penn Foster Career School, an accredited school of independent home study. In fact, according to his father, Tyler will even be working toward a bachelor’s while he’s in Spain. Why is this very key piece of information—information that dispels the notion that Tyler is some lost teen drop out—never mentioned when the young man is getting derided on television, radio, in print and at the water-cooler?
They see what they wanna see. They wanna see a young black man chasing pro-ball dreams, taking the final ethical and moral plunge of dropping out to go chase dollars—like this kid is some aspiring rapper, dropping out at 15 to go hawk his wack demo to the Manhattan record labels.
That’s how you’re looking at this? Word? Get the eff outta here.
“It’s ludicrous that they would think that,” said James Tyler.
The judges and high horse-riders do know that Jeremy has a Pops, right? Because, you know, I’m wondering. Or are they just seeing what they wanna see? They do know that, despite, you know, being a black man and all, James Tyler is actually an involved father. They do he’s been self-employed for 17 years, manages staff and has been able to provide a comfortable, livable life for his son and daughter in San Diego, right? James is not some slime-ball, never working, deadbeat dad that is looking to cash in on his son, as soon as possible. James is not Denzel Washington from He Got Game. James and Jeremy have been “researching” this move for two years. This was a decision given great thought, pros and cons weighed heavily.
“People wanna look at this through a straw-sized tunnel,” said James. “But, if they would look at the whole picture, they’d have more respect for the decision.”
James talks about preparation, protection and growth.
Tyler was quoted in the Times piece saying that high school ball “was boring and I wasn’t getting better. Each game was the same thing. I was getting triple-teamed and getting hacked. After each game I’d have scratches and bruises up and down my arms from getting triple-teamed. It just wasn’t for me.” Things would have been better in college, but the prep he’ll get overseas is even better. The grueling practices, the grown-man competition, the focus on basketball—talk to scouts and execs and most will speak highly of the player grooming in foreign leagues. Jeremy and James took that into consideration.
Tyler won’t get the money that Brandon Jennings signed for last year when he went to Italy instead of Arizona. But the money will be substantially better than his college stipend and whatever he would/could get under the table (though I am not, at all, saying Rick Pitino was set to pay Tyler to come to Louisville). The real issue here, says James, is the protection. Tyler will be an insured athlete overseas. When players suffer career-ending injuries in college, the universities can often toss them—or more importantly, their scholarships—aside. And the prospect of an NBA career—their first opportunity to earn a living from basketball—vanishes. Tyler can rest a little easier in Spain knowing that his limbs are insured/protected. Again, why is this kind of information never a part of the discussion?
James even speaks about “growth.” Growth is often cited when the NCAA-lackeys want to extol the virtues of spending a one or two-year sham of a stint on a college campus. “Oh, you learn so much about being an adult.” Whatever, Fonzworth. James says that Jeremy is prepared for a tough existence in Spain and that it will make him a better person, more appreciative of what hopefully awaits him as an NBA player. Many times, athletes go from spoiled in high school, to coddled in college, to the fantasy world of pro sports. Chris Webber might call Hedo Turkoglu the “Michael Jordan of Turkey,” but ain’t no athletes stuntin’ like MJ in Turkey.
“Think about the character he will build over there as a young man,” said James. “I think he’ll sit back and look at America and he’ll be more appreciative of what it offers. He’ll get a bird’s eye view that will make him appreciate things more when he comes back.”
This decision and route to the NBA is not for everybody. If a dude is the 126th-ranked player in his class and gets an offer to go play in Poland for $35,000 per year, he may want to stay put, finish high school and see if he can get a scholarship to go play for Jeff Capel. But if you’re a projected lottery pick and six-figures awaits you in a foreign pro league, cross the Atlantic or Pacific and get your GED or online diploma overseas while you get that money, preparation and protection.
Lurking behind all of this is the slickster Sonny Vaccaro, the man behind the maligned AAU-boom and last year’s Jennings decision. Jeremy and James worked with Vaccaro to make this happen. It is still not fully known what, if any, Vaccaro is gaining from these deals. Olden Polynice, who has worked with Jeremy, was quoted in the Times as saying Jeremy was getting “pimped.” Whether or not he was talking about Vaccaro is unclear, but I am personally skeptical. Perhaps Vaccaro is setting up these overseas-connections for personal gain. Maybe he’s doing it as an eff-you to the NCAA. Who knows. Perhaps I should act like an actual journalist and find out. But maybe, just maybe, Vaccaro feels the same way about this NBA-NCAA handcuff-job that I do, and he happens to have the connections, clout and means to do something about it.
All I know is that I hope more players follow Jennings and Tyler, if they feel that’s what’s best for them (I wrote an NBA.com column applauding Jennings’ decision). I hope they don’t bow to public opinion and consensus thinking.
Jeremy’s dad said his son is flying on “the wings of change.” He is. And all you people with your biases, stereotypes, baseless opinions and old notions need to get outta the way.
Vincent Thomas is a columnist and feature writer for SLAM, a contributing commentator for ESPN and writes the weekly “From The Floor” column for NBA.com. You can email him your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org or “follow” him on Twitter at @vincecathomas.
Photos by Peggy Peattie and Mark Avery.