Former high school phenom gets shot with Warriors

By Antonio Gonzalez

Associated Press

Published: Monday, June 27 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Golden State Warriors draft pick Jeremy Tyler speaks to reporters at a news conference in Oakland, Calif., Monday, June 27, 2011. Tyler is a former San Diego high school star who has played basketball professionally in Israel and Japan.

Jeff Chiu, Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. — Jeremy Tyler was in Israel two years ago when the moment came that made him realize his unprecedented experiment wasn't quite going to work out as planned.

During the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days of the year, he was at home at night watching a movie. The noise was blaring on his speakers, and the lights were on in his house — all a big no-no in a place where life revolves around religion.

Neighbors came knocking on his door, screaming. The commotion created such an uproar that even the police were called. In just one night, the first American-born player to drop out of high school for a professional basketball career overseas had offended what felt like an entire country.

"I didn't know. It was a complete culture shock," Tyler said Monday when he was introduced by the Golden State Warriors after being selected 39th overall in the NBA draft. "It was a big wake-up call."

There have been many of those on Tyler's journey.

A former high school phenom in San Diego, the 6-foot-10 power forward/center was considered perhaps the best big man in his class. But he wasn't happy at his school and wanted to transfer ahead of his senior season, only he couldn't because of district rules.

Along with offers from almost every major college, a few international leagues called. After watching Brandon Jennings opt for Europe instead of college, Tyler and his family decided to take an even bigger risk.

All of 18 years old, he left high school after his junior year and signed a $140,000 deal with Israeli team Maccabi Haifa. Life would never be the same.

"There were two roads to take. I took the harder road," Tyler, now 20, said.

Nothing went as he'd hoped.

Tyler's father, James, spent the first three weeks with him in Israel. Then only a cousin stayed. Tyler was stuck on a team with three big men, and he was raw and unpolished, up against grown men for the first time in his life who could match his muscle. He eventually quit after a disappointing start.

"That's a tough position for a teenager. But he wanted it, so I supported his decision," his mother, Martin, said. "He had to grow up really fast."

While Jennings went on to a stellar young career with the Milwaukee Bucks after only one season abroad, Tyler still had another year before he could meet the NBA's rules of being a year removed from his senior season in high school.

Former shoe company executive Sonny Vaccaro, an adviser to Tyler and his family, told The Associated Press after Tyler left Israel in 2009 that the experience there was "more embarrassing than detrimental" and that Tyler wasn't ready to grow up.

Tyler still had another chance to prove he made the right choice.

On his second go-round, he decided to travel across the Pacific to Japan. Tyler signed a deal with Tokyo Apache, and by all accounts, was starting to grow into the player many thought he could become.

Mother Nature had other plans.

In the middle of an online video chat with his mother in March, everything started to shake — not an uncommon feeling in Japan or for a kid from Southern California used to earthquakes. This one was different.

"He said, 'Mom, it's not stopping! It's not stopping! Everything is shaking!'" she said. "We were very scared. But the one thing we were able to do was Skype with him. Later on, when we saw how big the devastation was around Japan with the tsunamis and everything, I didn't want to tell him. He was in Tokyo, and there was no TV or anything there for him.

"I figured he had been through enough."

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