Friday, April 24, 2009

Discussing Jeremy Tyler

I'm sure that by now you've heard about Jeremy Tyler, the Junior Louisvile recruit who has decided to skip his Senior year of High School to go to Europe. He is being, of course, compared to Brandon Jennings, the former Arizona recruit who spent this past season in Europe and is expected to now be a Top Ten pick in the coming NBA Draft. Tyler, of course, is taking it a step further by skipping his Senior year of college. Jennings only spent about eight months with his team.

Certainly, going to Europe is difficult. There have been mixed reports on how much Jennings really enjoyed this past season (see here and here for examples), although the general consensus seems to be that he is happy with the decision but that it took a strong family and friend support structure to help him. He averaged nearly 8 points per game in nearly 20 minutes per game for Virtus Roma, an Italian team that regularly makes the late rounds in the Euroleague. It's also a team that has a lot of history with American players, which surely helped. Previous players for Virtus include Danny Ferry, Brian Shaw, Tyus Edny, Allan Ray, Rick Mahorn and Anthony Parker. George Gervin and Michael Cooper also played there at the tail end of their careers. Since the perception is that Tyler, while a top recruit, is not quite the talent that Jennings is, he might not end up on a team that has had so much success and that has so much American history. Or he could end up on the bench for the same team. It's tough enough playing in Europe without getting buried on the bench.

One argument being made (at least by those who know a little something about soccer) is that this is like how the top world soccer players develop. They all go off to academies at young ages, and often sign professional contracts at very young ages. Wayne Rooney signed with Everton at age 10, and joined their Premier League side at age 16. Manchester United's Academy has an Under-9 team. But as somebody who actually follows soccer at this level, I'm going to tell you that this is a different case. Europeans are more and more moving towards the European Union view of the world, with Europe being something like a single country. If you live in one country, it's not a big deal to move to the country next door. And kids aren't travelling across countries when they're 9 years old anyway. You see very few kids going international to play for youth teams before the age of 15. And even then, they are going to be on teams with many European players, and they won't feel like the odd man out. Going across the ocean is completely different. It is very, very rare to see American soccer players heading to European academies. There are plenty of American soccer players good enough: there are a number of Americans starting in the Premier League, but all of them started in American academies and schools. It's not the being in an academy that is the hard part, it's being the odd man out.

So can this work for Tyler? It certainly is possible. It's going to come down to his family and support structure. He's going to have a lot of tough times, but if he can mentally handle them then certainly the Euroleague is a lot more of a development process than High School ball. Also, if he can show that he can handle the Euroleague then it will ease the worries of NBA teams who often wonder if 19 year old kids can handle the pressure and money that comes with being in the league. It's not my place to pass judgment on this kid's priorities. If he can succeed then it will work out for him. If he can't then he'd better find a way to go back and get that degree. Only time will tell how he handles this.

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