I meant to write about this last night, before this hotlink went up. But whatever, here you go.
Jeremy Tyler is making a very smart decision to skip his senior year in high school to go play pro basketball in Europe. The reason why many of us think his decision is wrong though is because we here in the United States have always associated sports with education. You play a sport in high school, or on a club team, etc., which helps you get into college where you further your education while playing a sport. Sports then - for a number of people - becomes the vehicle for how you become educated.
For the majority of Americans out there, this is fine. I played a sport in college. Playing a sport helped me get into a better college. Playing a sport helped give me a better education.
But I also knew I would never be going pro in anything.
Tyler's completely different. He's part of the rare upper-echelon of athletes. And don't kid yourself here, Tyler's already projected as the #1 draft pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. He's killing opponents on the high school basketball court. What in God's name will another year in high school do for his game? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
He's not leaving high school because he's stupid. He's not leaving high school early so his family can cash in on him (his family is well off). He's leaving high school early so he can hone his game in Europe and turn himself into the best damn basketball player he can be. And his family will be keeping a watchful eye on him. I should also note that he will be getting his GED while abroad too, so he's not totally ignoring his education.
Just think of it this way. If Tyler were a piano prodigy, or a computer whiz, would you have a problem with him skipping college so that he could play to packed concert halls or be hired by Microsoft? Probably not. Just consider Tyler to be a prodigy of another kind.
Let's also keep in mind that Ricky Rubio, who's about to be the #2 pick in this coming NBA Draft, spent his 2008 summer starting at point guard for Spain in the gold medal game against the United States, and played pretty damn well. He was 17 during that game.
Rubio became a pro at age 14. He's been getting paid to play as a pro, and he's been able to hone his skills to the point where he's one of the most coveted point guards to come out for the NBA Draft in years - and he's 18 for God's sake! So why aren't people up in arms about Rubio? Because in Europe, education and sports are completely separated from each other. I'm not saying the US has to do that, but it is a cleaner system.
What Tyler is smart enough to see is what we all should see if we look closely. For upper-echelon athletes, college is not for getting education. It's a minor league for pro sports - without pay.
Don't kid yourself. Did OJ Mayo go to USC for a year for an education? Did Derrick Rose go to Memphis for a year to get an education? No, these guys went to college because they had to under the NBA's age requirement, and also so they could showcase their skills for scouts on a large stage. The other problem is they had to do this for free.
David Stern is complicit in this as well. The NBA age limit is partly so that the NBA doesn't get extremely raw players coming into the league, but it's also to continue to use the NCAA as a free minor league. After all, having the NCAA (which is totally free) as your scouting ground, makes a lot more economic sense then setting up a minor league like pro baseball to develop talent.
Brandon Jennings, the super heralded point guard who decided to buck Stern's attempt to funnel players into college, spent a year abroad playing pro ball in Italy instead of going to college (he actually didn't have the grades to get into Arizona). He also had a strong family unit with him while he was abroad to keep him grounded. Jennings has already called his experience in Europe extremely valuable, and NBA pro scouts said they consider the time Jennings spent abroad to be more valuable then if he'd gone to college. He also got paid, well.
One has to understand that just because Tyler is going abroad, it won't destroy the relationship sports and education have in America. 99.9% of kids won't being doing what Tyler is doing. He is the rare exception who can do this, and he should.
Because for all of you who think this means this kid will never get an education, it doesn't mean that at all. Tyler is going to get paid to play. He'll easily have the ability to take his money and go to college when he chooses to.
And you can even go a step further here. He'll be better off if he tears his knee up while getting paid to play in Europe (he'll likely be earning several hundred thousand dollars) then he will be if he tears his knee up in a February game against Pitt. He can use the money he made to pay for his education.
I know Tyler's example might cause some kids to foolishly think they too can go to Europe, or that they don't need an education. But let's be realistic about this. For the majority of kids out there, this isn't a worry.
Tyler is a kid whose goal is to be the #1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. He clearly has the talent to be that. I don't see how he's any different from the 14-year-old piano genius or the 16-year-old chessmaster. His education will always be there waiting for him when he wants to get it.
Why Jeremy Tyler Leaving High School Early Makes Sense