Welcome To Jeremy’s World

By Eric Crawford
Updated: April 25, 2009

LOUISVILLE – The last time a kid said he was going to skip his senior year of high school and go pro, the year was 1999, his name was Brandon Bender, and everybody laughed.

On Wednesday, San Diego High School star Jeremy Tyler said he was going to do it, and everybody asked, “Who’s next?”

Because that’s the real issue here.

Sports Illustrated even called Bender’s pronouncement “This Week’s Sign That The Apocalypse Is Upon Us,” although he wound up playing for several colleges including Louisville. But Tyler making the leap a reality a decade later is hardly Apocalypse Now.

I can’t knock the 6-foot-11 U of L prospect and his family for deciding to negotiate a six-figure professional basketball deal in Europe, probably Spain, in favor of his senior year of high school.

Did you see his quote to The New York Times?

“Nowadays people look to college for more off-the-court stuff versus being in the gym and getting better,” Tyler said.

Yeah. College is famous for that off-the-court-stuff. You know, classes, exams and stuff like that. Something tells me that Tyler isn’t availing himself of much in the way of “off-the-court stuff” in high school, either. Might as well finish his graduation requirements online, as he plans to do. Let’s hope one of those lessons teaches him to find Spain on a map.

Tyler will be fine.

Scouts are certain he can handle the physical rigors of the European pro game. Players over there go pro even younger.

The problem with all this isn’t Tyler, it’s the next 30 dropouts who are going to skip out on high school to play ball in Europe.

Sonny Vaccaro, the Godfather of the Nike empire, shoe company contracts, high school All-Star games, the ABCD Camp and the groundbreaking jump of Kevin Garnett from high school to the NBA, is going to broker this deal. And he fully knows the value of it. The best marketing mind in sports knows the value to Tyler of being first, and the value to himself of starting this new wave.

Garnett wasn’t an instant NBA splash but belonged in the league, as did Kobe Bryant after him. Since then, however, hundreds of college basketball careers — and educations — have washed out chasing that same dream of an early ticket to the pros, many of them following the bad advice of Vaccaro wannabes.

Is there any reason to think it will be different with those who follow in Tyler’s wake? Vacarro knows the power of this jump — that it will launch a new generation of pro dreams.

The damage is that it gives even more high school players motivation to ignore school. It paves the way for more forgotten phenoms who listen to the wrong people.

It begs the need for professional basketball to step in with a formal advisory board of the kind that the NFL provides college football players — an authoritative voice to counter the many misguided advisors who would seek to push, and cash in on, young players with potential pro futures.

There’s no way to be a purist about basketball. Big money has infiltrated even its lower levels. I can’t blame a kid with the talent for making money for himself instead of for a school or the NCAA.

But Vaccaro and others should be wary of glorifying this jump — because for most high school players, it is right off a cliff.