By Marcus Thompson II
When it became clear that Golden State could acquire big man Jeremy Tyler, Warriors assistant general manager Bob Myers stood up in the team’s draft room and spoke up.
Myers has known Tyler for years, since he was a middle school phenom in San Diego. Myers felt compelled to issue one last reminder to coach Mark Jackson.
“I said, ‘Mark, you’ve got to coach this guy,’ ” said Myers. “He said, ‘Let’s get him.’”
Assistant coach Michael Malone then asked: “Is he good? Is he big?”
“He’s good and big,” Myers responded. “But you’ve got to keep him on a leash a little bit.”
After that, Golden State agreed to send $2 million to Charlotte in exchange for the No. 39 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft, which the Bobcats used to select Tyler for the Warriors. In doing so, Golden State added some serious excitement to its draft.
Tyler — 20 years old and 6-foot-10, 260 pounds — was a first-round talent with some issues, which is why he was available in round two. He’s known for being a gifted athlete with all the tools to become a special NBA big man. He’s also been known for being immature, making poor decisions and having a questionable work ethic.
Golden State will introduce Tyler on Monday, along with first-round pick Klay Thompson and second-rounder Charles Jenkins.
“Doing the deal to acquire the rights to Jeremy Tyler was an aggressive move,” said Warriors general manager Larry Riley. “Jeremy is a person of size both in height and bulk and is a young, athletic player. We will certainly be in a developmental situation with him, but I do think he is an NBA talent.”
Tyler has been pegged as an NBA talent since he was in the eighth grade. Some say that’s what gave him the personality flaws that made him so hard to deal with as a teenager.
He has had a filmmaker following him around since his sophomore year in high school, making a documentary. He’s had shoe companies, agents and hangers-on putting in their bids before he’d taken algebra.
After his junior season at San Diego High in 2009, when he was touted by many as the top high school player in the nation, Tyler decided to skip the 12th grade and play pro ball in Israel. It was a move set up by AAU basketball honcho Sonny Vaccaro, and it caused a national debate. Tyler became the first American basketball player to leave high school early to go pro. He signed a two-year, $140,000 contract with Maccabi Haifa after agreeing to play collegiately at Louisville.
Israel didn’t go so well.
Tyler appeared in 10 games, averaging just 7.6 minutes. Or, as the Haaretz Daily newspaper in Tel Aviv reported, “Tyler averaged about two points, two rebounds and two temper tantrums a game.”
After run-ins with his coach and teammates, Tyler — who was alone in Israel at 18 — wound up going back home.
“All he had to do was go and do what Brandon (Jennings) did, shut up and go learn,” Vaccaro, an adviser to Tyler and Jennings, told the New York Times in a 2009 article on Tyler. “He obviously isn’t doing that. He thinks that he’s Kevin Garnett.”
Tyler regrouped after Israel and headed for Japan to play this past season for the Tokyo Apache, coached by former NBA head coach Bob Hill. It was under Hill that Tyler started to show signs of maturity and progress, on the court and off.
Tyler averaged 9.9 points and 6.4 rebounds in 15.4 minutes per game with the Apache. The season was suspended in March because of the catastrophic earthquake in Japan, but in his last game, Tyler totaled 24 points and 11 rebounds in 23 minutes.
“In Japan, he was able to keep his NBA flame alive,” said Tyler’s agent, Mahktar N’Diaye, who played at North Carolina and had a cup of coffee in the NBA. “We all know Bob Hill is passionate. Because he had been an NBA coach, Jeremy felt he was somebody he could listen to.”
N’diaye said Tyler looks at Jackson the same way. Riley said the Warriors are planning to put at least a couple years into Tyler, so his roster spot is pretty secure. The Warriors are thirsty enough for size, rebounding and inside scoring to take a chance, especially considering the struggles of starting center Andris Biedrins.
Tyler could be just what the Warriors need: a big man who plays big but can run the floor and finish with authority, and who can protect the basket and bang inside.
“The No. 1 thing he definitely will bring is toughness,” said Warriors small forward Dorell Wright, adding that he’s played with Tyler during the summer for several years. “He’s still very young and raw. He has a lot of room to get better. He plays hard and is willing to work. I worked out every day with the kid, so I know he will fit in well for us.”
Myers said when the Warriors talked to Tyler, the first thing the player asked was when he could come to Oakland and begin working out. N’diaye said Tyler was frustrated he didn’t go in the first round and is bent on making the teams that passed him up pay.
“Everybody said this a great kid that needs direction and has tremendous upside,” Jackson said. “I feel very comfortable about taking him and molding him. I’m excited about what lies ahead for this young man. He couldn’t have fallen into a better situation.
“I want to be not just a coach to this young man. I want to be a mentor. I want to be a father figure. I want to be somebody he understands he can trust and grow with. I want to give him every opportunity to succeed.”