Tyler's decision to leave school 'unique'

Now that Jeremy Tyler has fired his salvo, what's next?

If you ask Sonny Vaccaro, the grassroots basketball guru, he'll give you an earful.

It was Vaccaro, a longtime proponent of free enterprise for qualified, gifted teenagers, who helped the 6-foot-11 Tyler navigate the roiling waters en route to a professional career abroad.

Tyler, a junior who recently completed a tumultuous season at San Diego High School in California, announced earlier this week that he'll bypass his final year of high school eligibility and college to pursue a pro career, likely in Europe.

"What's he going to learn in high school? Going to a club team in say, Europe, would do him good," Vaccaro said. "I'm ecstatic for Jeremy and his family. They are unified on this decision."

Tyler, the No. 7-rated player in the ESPNU Super 60 and one who committed to Louisville over Arizona, UCLA, North Carolina and USC, is a work in progress but has a tremendous upside, according to Scouts Inc.'s assessment of him. "Overall, [Jeremy] Tyler is an enormous talent that should project to the NBA level, but that all depends on him and being consistent in both effort and skill development," Scouts Inc. wrote.

Vaccaro, who was contacted by Tyler's father in January, said, "Jeremy will play at least two years before considering the NBA."

Vaccaro was impressed with Tyler's determination and attitude, comparing him to Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

"There was no doubt in their minds they would go right to the NBA and succeed," he said. "They made it because they simply believed and had the talent. Their doubters were the same people who thought Dwight Howard shouldn't be the first overall pick [in 2004]."

Tyler is not the first player Vaccaro has advised. Last year, guard Brandon Jennings of Compton, Calif., consulted with Vaccaro before heading to a pro career in Italy's top-flight league. Jennings is considered a surefire lottery pick and is eligible for this year's NBA draft.

Ed Azzam, who coaches national powerhouse Westchester High in Los Angeles, is still digesting Tyler's bombshell.

"You have to believe that it was inevitable, whether it was him or another player," said Azzam, who has won five California Interscholastic Federation Division I (large-school) state championships. "There's no wrong or right answer. I wish him [success] and hope he succeeds, but you can't get that year back.

"Kids should stay kids as long as possible; once you enter adulthood, there's no turning back."

Calls to the CIF San Diego Section office were not immediately returned.

Word traveled worldwide of Tyler's pioneering effort, Vaccaro said.

"Pam [Vaccaro, my wife] and I were up at 5:30 a.m. [PT] reading e-mails and fielding calls from several teams in Europe and Asia about Jeremy," he said. "People want to get involved; he has plenty of interest, but we'll start to gather information."

The next step is identifying potential international suitors, scheduling workouts and appointing advisers who will assist with Tyler's financial and legal needs.

"I'm not an agent, just a strategic adviser," Vaccaro stressed.

As a junior, Tyler averaged 28.7 points for a team that underachieved, going 15-11. The season of discontent was marred when two San Diego High assistants were fired for their roles in an attempt to lure three key transfers to surround Tyler with talent. Eventually the three were ruled ineligible, leaving San Diego High void of talent.

Tyler, 17, has been home schooled for the past month and intends to earn a high school diploma through correspondence classes.

"No question he'll earn his diploma through GED," Vaccaro said.

In 1998, coach Kevin Boyle of St. Patrick High (Elizabeth, N.J.) dealt with Al Harrington bypassing college for the NBA. When Boyle was reassured Harrington would go in the first round (he was selected by the Indiana Pacers), he made sure his star pupil earned his diploma.

"It's a personal decision," Boyle said. "After you get your diploma, you do what's right for your family."

However, Boyle thinks Tyler's situation is "highly unique."

"It'll be interesting if European teams come after American junior or sophomore players who are special," he said. "If they do, teams would have the players for two or three years and perhaps develop a relationship with them to keep them around longer."

Azzam doesn't feel Tyler's decision will become a trend.

"This is a case-to-case basis," he said.

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball, and boys' and girls' basketball. He also worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, for which he ran the Gatorade national Player of the Year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.