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Should Jeremy Tyler Join the D-League?

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My apologies for getting this up so late today.  I've been slammed at work and I keep forgetting that, because I live in the Central Time Zone now, posting at 3 means 4 pm on the East Coast.  I'll strive to do better in the future. -- Jon

Weren't we just here?  First high-school senior John Wall briefly explored entering the NBA Draft (which he may have been able to do, as he's in his fifth year), and now come reports that high school junior Jeremy Tyler has dropped out and will play in Europe.  A lot of what I wrote about Wall applies here, but the fact that Tyler appears to be heading overseas, and that he won't have finished high school, brings up some slightly different issues, which I go into at length (because it's me) after the jump.

First and foremost is likely to be the education question.  The comments on that Wall post did a good job going through the back-and-forth on whether athletes who don't graduate from college succeed at the same rate as their degreed colleagues.  Beyond athletes, though, there are certainly people who have become successful without college degrees.  Perhaps not always on the level of those who went through higher education, but just in my own family, many of my relatives in my mother's generation have found good careers without college.  

A high school diploma, though, is another animal entirely.  Workers without high school degrees have been found to make almost half of what graduates make.  By forgoing his high school education now, Tyler could find he has limited options once his playing career is over.*  Unless he develops a taste for smooth jazz.  (Incidentally, FreeDarko's Bethlehem Shoals raised an interesting question on Twitter earlier today, which paraphrased boils down to: why is no one worried that Europeans like Ricky Rubio don't finish their education?)

If/when he goes to Europe, though, Jeremy Tyler will likely have some fantastic life experience.  Colleges hype semesters abroad as a way to see and learn things students wouldn't otherwise on a relatively-sheltered college campus.  Places of employment have become accepting of applicants who took a year or two off to backpack through Spain or work for the Peace Corps because they bring what they saw to the workplace.  That kind of thing is invaluable, and it likely would make Tyler a more well-rounded person than he would've been had he spent a year at Louisville.

Then there's the question of whether Tyler really will develop in Europe the way he seems to assume he will.  I made my feelings on the NCAA and player development clear earlier, but I think Tyler's absolutely right when he says that playing in college wouldn't adequately prepare him for the NBA. 

Let's back up and describe what kind of player Tyler is: a 6'11 center.  How many guys that size have been successful coming over from Europe?  Dirk Nowitzki, certainly, though if I remember correctly he came into the league as more of a small forward.  The Gasol brothers, sure.  Andrei Kirilenko.  Luis Scola.  Mehmet Okur.  Heck, Arvydas Sabonis.  There are some others, but then you have to step down a few levels to find players like Fabricio Oberto or Darko Milicic, but I get the feeling Tyler's not going to Europe to become the second big man off the bench.  On the other side are guys who washed out like Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Gordon Giricek, Juan Carlos Navarro and Jake Tsakalidis (and potentially Oleksiy Pecherov).  I'm just not sure that development in Europe is any more of a sure thing than it is in America.

As a counterargument, and getting back to the success stories, Nowitzki and Pau Gasol both had to change their games somewhat when they joined the NBA, but the NBA has also changed from when Milicic was drafted.  Offenses are a little more open, there are more guys like Anthony Randolph and Michael Beasley and Andray Blatche (don't laugh) who do all sorts of different things beyond what American big men were expected to do for years (or at least have the capacity to do so...Andray). 

American colleges are better at developing traditional back-to-the-basket guys like Hasheem Thabeet who, while a fine player, isn't anyone's idea of the future of basketball.  In that light, there is a good chance that Tyler can go to Italy or Spain and develop the kinds of skills that will help him in today's NBA.  But what happens if, a year or even six months from now, Tyler and his family don't feel like they're getting the right kind of instruction in Europe? 

Getting out of European basketball contracts has proven to be a thorny issue in the past, and I doubt whichever team Tyler picks will be anxious so try and leave early to come back here.  At any rate, a lot of what Tyler learns in the next two years might have to be forgotten once he hits the NBA.

Then there's Sonny Vaccaro's involvement.  Vaccaro helped Brandon Jennings sign with Lottomatica Roma, and depending on how you read this Atlantic article and this one from the New Republic (both found via TrueHoop), he's been on the lookout for a high school junior he can "help" for a while.  In fact, according to that TNR piece, Vaccaro has major beef with the NCAA and wants to see its downfall.  While I agree with a lot of Vaccaro's criticisms, I'm really, really uncomfortable with his involvement (in part for reasons delineated here), and I can't help but wonder if there's some non-NCAA-based angle he's pursuing.

To bring this (finally) to the D-League, players like Jeremy Tyler (and John Wall, and Brandon Jennings) should be talking about going to play in Austin or Bakersfield, not in Rome or Barcelona.  I say that not for any xenophobic or jingoistic reasons, but because I want to see the NBA put its best product on the floor, and I truly believe the D-League offers the all-around best chance for players who aren't in the NBA to develop.  Again, I don't want to repeat too much from the Wall piece, but the D-League would offer Tyler a chance to play in front of NBA scouts on a weekly basis, learn NBA offensive sets and principles and, most importantly, get to work, learn and play against NBA players.

The fact that none of these players seem to be have considered the D-League doesn't bode well, I don't think, for the future of the NBA's player development system.  I obviously think the D-League does a good job with what it does now, but there is clearly more work to be done to get these kids (or, sigh, guys like Sonny Vaccaro) to come aboard.

Whatever Tyler decides, or Wall for that matter, there seems to be growing evidence that the current NBA age limit doesn't work for certain players, isn't providing them with the development they think they need to become better basketball players (though as some have argued, it wasn't supposed to). 

I think the next round of collective bargaining negotiations will be too early to see any changes made (or rather, for Stern to want to see any changes made), but a point will be reached at which the league can't ignore these players and their needs anymore.

* You could even argue that this raises issues with how we refer to kids who don't finish high school as dropouts, even though they may leave for reasons other than failing grades, but that's way beyond the scope of this.