TOKYO – Once touted as a potential No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, American teenager Jeremy Tyler has moved on from a disappointing stint in Israel to try rebuilding his game in Japan with the help of former NBA coach Bob Hill.
The 19-year-old Tyler, the first American-born player to leave high school early to play professionally overseas, elected to sign with the Tokyo Apache of Japan's professional league for the chance to play under Hill.
Tyler is averaging 8.5 points and 5.7 rebounds in 19 games (28.8 minutes per game), all as a reserve.
"Every day is a challenge for me," Tyler said. "I'm trying to transition myself from a high school kid to a professional."
Tyler left San Diego High School after his junior year and signed a one-year, $140,000 contract with Israeli team Maccabi Haifa in August 2009.
But he left Haifa two months before the end of the season for personal reasons. In the 10 games Tyler played for the club, the 6-foot-11 power forward averaged only 2.1 points and 1.9 rebounds in 7.6 minutes.
"Any 19-year-old that you take overseas is going to be a bit of a project," Hill said. "But we knew that. He's had his moments. He had 27 points in one game. He's a very good rebounder, he rebounds the ball instinctively, he goes and gets the ball."
Tyler feels a lot more comfortable playing under an American coach and says he is learning a lot from the 61-year-old Hill.
"When Coach talks you listen," Tyler said. "He knows exactly where I want to go and he's been there before. He's one of the main reasons I came to Japan."
Hill said he uses a combination of tough love and fatherly advice to help Tyler develop both on and off the court.
"I've been really hard on him in practice but he's taken it pretty well," Hill said. "He's very aware now of what he has to do on the floor. Now it's at the point where he has to transfer the effort and confidence from practice to the game."
Japan's professional league, made up of former Division I U.S. college players, several former NBA players and local talent, would seem to be the ideal place for Tyler to hone his skills. It's less developed than a league such as Israel's but offers some tough challenges.
"Israel was great and I enjoyed it but I didn't have an American coach and I didn't have a lot of older American players that I could talk to," Tyler said. "The situation here is a lot different."
One of the players he seeks out here is Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. The former NBA point guard is in his second season in Japan and is more than willing to offer Tyler advice.
"I talk to him almost every day," Tyler said. "He's a guy who knows what the NBA life is all about and he's given me a lot of good advice."
Abdul-Rauf said: "The bottom line is you want to produce."
"You want to show that wherever you are, you are producing," Abdul-Rauf said. "You want to keep evolving. You don't want to go from this league down. You want to go from this league to build your way up."
For now, Tyler says he's just focusing on the little things that he hopes will make him an NBA player.
"I'm going to enter the NBA draft in June so hopefully Coach Hill and my support team can get me ready for that," Tyler said. "My ultimate goal is to play in the NBA but I have a long way to go, a lot of little things to work out to become a good professional, a good man, and a good teammate."