- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Jeremy Tyler says his highly scrutinized and controversial decision to leave high school after his junior season to play overseas two years ago changed him, humbled him and made him more mature.
Only time will tell whether he's right.
"It's definitely been a journey," Tyler said Wednesday after working out for the New Jersey Nets with five other NBA draft hopefuls at the team's practice facility. "But it definitely developed me as a professional both on and off the court. Now I'm just going out here having fun and showing what I can do."
Tyler was 17 years old when he shocked the nation by declaring he was forgoing his senior year at San Diego High School and retracting his commitment to attend Louisville to sign a one-year, $140,000 contract with Maccabi Haifa of the Israeli Basketball Super League.
"I just wanted to grow up. I wanted to challenge myself as a basketball player and a young man," Tyler, who averaged 28.7 points per game as a high school junior, said of why he made the decision to take his game overseas. "I developed great habits, and right now the sky's the limit."
Had Tyler excelled in Israel, it might have been the case. NBA talent evaluators probably would be hyping him up as the next superstar.
But Tyler struggled to get acclimated with his new surroundings, and his time with Haifa came to a tumultuous end in March 2010 after he averaged a paltry 2.1 points and 1.9 rebounds in 10 games.
Tyler eventually caught on with the Tokyo Apache of Japan's professional basketball league that July, and he continued to develop his raw game under former Seattle SuperSonics head coach Bob Hill.
Tyler's numbers improved tremendously, yet his stock -- given all the expectations for greatness he once had -- remains low. The 6-foot-10, 262-pounder, who projects a combo forward/center at the next level, is ranked as the 32nd-best prospect in ESPN.com draft guru Chad Ford's Top 100 list.
Ford notes that organizations believe that Tyler, who turned 20 two weeks ago, has tremendous physical upside because he has a 7-5 wing span and a 9-2 standing reach. However, Ford says, his offensive game is unpolished, which makes Tyler an intriguing proposition.
He already has worked out with eight NBA teams and expects to display his talents for five more before the June 23 draft.
"Hopefully I catch some eyes and draw some interest," said Tyler, who could slide into the first round if things go his way. "I'm not sure [where he'll go]; it's still early in the process. I was a highly rated prospect out of high school, and I don't feel like I've lost a step."
Asked to give a scouting report of himself, Tyler said: "I really have a versatile game. I can shoot the ball. I have a nice series of outside moves, a pretty good variety of moves inside the paint. Whatever is needed, I just play basketball.
"I've played really good defense. I always played off the ball defense pretty well. I always went after defensive rebounds. Defense has never been an issue with my game."
Tyler credits Hill, his coach in Japan, as playing a vital role in helping his maturation process.
"He was definitely a major part of my success on the team," Tyler said. "His knowledge was a blessing. To be able to converse with him every day; I learned a lot. It was a good experience. He was everything I always wanted: a great role model, father-figure coach."
Tyler still believes that taking his talents overseas was the right decision, a decision he would've made again if given the chance.
"I'd do it the exact same way I did it," Tyler said. "I feel like I wouldn't be who I am now without it.
"I was 17 then [when I first went]. Like any other 17-year-old it was difficult, but I stuck it out. There's a culture difference in every country, and Israel took me a little longer [to adapt].
"I couldn't say it didn't work out the way I wanted to. I didn't expect anything. I wanted to mature, and through all the bad days and the great days, that's what I did. So as far as my goal for that year, I feel like I reached a few of them, but the basketball side ... but basketball will take care of itself."
Nets general manager Billy King, however, thinks every player should get the college experience.
"I recommend college," King said. "You're in an environment where you're going to classes and you're in a team environment. When you're overseas there's no class, and you're just being paid to play basketball."
King said he doesn't think Tyler is trailblazer, because he'd be shocked if future players followed in his footsteps.
But if anyone else decides to take the road less traveled to reach the professional ranks, Tyler has a message for them.
"I couldn't tell them it would be easy, because then I'd be lying to them," Tyler said. "Everything is all personal. I think it's all based on what you can handle, because I went over there by myself, so it was difficult, but I stuck it out. I just think don't do it because you think it's cool and you want to make money. You gotta do it to challenge yourself and to get better."
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