At 17, Jeremy Tyler already leaves big footprints in his size-18 shoes. His ambitions are even bigger.
Playing basketball in Spain would be pretty cool, he thinks, or Italy or Greece. China? Imagine learning that language. These aren't daydreams, mind you. He's mulling over the next two years of his life, the beginning of his pro basketball career.
Tyler's decision to skip his senior season at San Diego High to play overseas has kicked up considerable reaction, both pro and con.
Pushing 7 feet tall and with his high school career having turned
"boring," the 260-pound Tyler is convinced he's doing the right thing.
"There is no doubt in my mind," Tyler said as he, his father and his uncle sat for an interview in the restaurant the family will soon open. "Everything that's going through my head is like, 'This is where you need to be, this is where it's going to make you better, this is where you're going to be able to get to the next level after this."'
Tyler would become the first American-born player to leave high school early to play professionally overseas. When he's eligible for the NBA draft in 2011, some see him as a potential No. 1 pick overall.
Players can no longer to go straight from high school to the NBA, which was the route taken by Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Garnett, among others.
Tyler disagrees with that rule.
"If you have the talent and college won't do anything for your talent or your profession, there's no point to go," said Tyler, who averaged 28.7 points during his junior season, when his father said he was like a man among boys. "When there's an opportunity out of high school to go fulfill your dreams, then they shouldn't have taken away the option for you to go take it. That's why there's ways around it to still go pro, like I'm doing."
James Tyler is so convinced of his son's ability that he said he's taken out a $5 million insurance policy against injury.
"This is a guy that's going to be your next Kobe Bryant or your LeBron, if he works. He's a guy that's in that mold," he said.
Jeremy Tyler said that's not want he's after.
"I want to become the first me," he replied. "My thing is, whatever Kobe has that's so amazing, I want. Whatever LeBron has that's so amazing, I want. Whatever Amare (Stoudemire) has, I want. So you add all those talents together makes a person that's really unstoppable."
Former shoe company executive Sonny Vaccaro is advising the Tylers, and said he's had inquiries from eight teams from Europe, Israel and, yes, even China.
Tyler should be able to make a "nice" six-figure salary playing overseas, as well as a lucrative shoe deal, Vaccaro said.
The Tyler family might have had Jeremy stay put and play his senior season, but San Diego High coach Kenny Roy and his top assistant were fired in February amid allegations they recruited players from outside San Diego.
"What would the right thing be?" Vaccaro said. "To play in an inept high school situation? To not want to better yourself?"
Tyler had committed to Louisville, but not even a year at a top program before entering the NBA draft seemed like a good option to him.
"If I use that middle time to play overseas where I can have bad games or I can have good games or I can have OK games, I'm still getting better every game over there, more than I'll get better in college or another year in high school - with 6-2 big men," Tyler said with an air of bemusement.
The biggest knock against Tyler's decision, of course, is that he's walking away from his education and that's bad for his development as a person.
"But this ain't 1950," his father said. "I mean, everything is online."
Jeremy Tyler is being home-schooled and will graduate early, his father said.
"He has a chance to grow up," James Tyler said. "He has a chance to see things he probably would never see. I mean, at 7 feet, 260, and you've got the talent Jeremy's got, I'm pretty sure your resume is set to go play basketball, either in this country or somewhere else. He's not going to be your doctor, he's not going to be your lawyer."
He's got a supporter in Hall of Famer and fellow San Diegan Bill Walton.
"What are his options?" Walton told The Associated Press. "The idea that there is one career path to accomplish your goals and dreams in life is absurd."
Walton is all for college, having played for John Wooden at UCLA. His four sons all played college basketball and graduated, including Luke, who plays for the Jeremy Tyler's favorite team, the Los Angeles Lakers.
But Walton said this is a different situation, and he admires and respects Tyler's decision. "He is clearly very talented and with the whole world at his feet, he can really go and do something that is going to be fun, worthwhile, extremely educational and make his life better," he said.
When they're not running Annie Belle's Famous Wings & Greens in a strip mall, members of Tyler's family will be with him in whatever country he lands.
Tyler said people who criticize his decision don't understand what he was facing every game last season - the triple-teams, the hacking, being limited to playing the middle when he feels he has much more to his game.
"I was the best player in San Diego this year and it was boring. Next year, it would be extremely boring," Tyler said. "I'd go into the game with no enthusiasm."
Tyler has been working out with Tony Bland, a former player at Syracuse and San Diego State. Vaccaro has advised the family to hire both an American agent and a European agent. Jeremy Tyler is expected to work out with a professional trainer for a few weeks before trying out for teams.
The target date for deciding on a team is June 12, Jeremy's 18th birthday.
Interestingly enough, Vaccaro wouldn't normally recommend the move Tyler is making at his age because of cultural differences. But, he adds, "I think Jeremy can do it."
Tyler said he's generally been able to change people's opinion of his decision.
"The only thing I don't like hearing is when somebody says, 'I don't think you're good enough to play over there.' And it's like, 'OK, well thanks for telling me that, now you're going to make me go to the gym two more extra hours."'
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