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August 13, 2009MORE: High school athlete eyes 2012 Olympic Games | Class of 2010 basketball player rankings
SAN DIEGO - Jeremy Tyler completed his jump from high school underclassman to pro basketball player on Wednesday when he signed a one-year, $140,000 contract with Maccabi Haifa of the Israeli Premier League.
Tyler, 18, is the first American-born player to leave high school early to play basketball professionally overseas. The 6-foot-11, 260-pound Tyler announced in the spring that he was skipping his senior season at San Diego High because prep basketball had become boring.
"I think I made the right decision," Tyler told The Associated Press on Wednesday evening. "I think this team is a good fit for me and it's the right country."
Tyler averaged 28.7 points during his junior season.
"I feel good. I feel blessed," he said. "I got past the easy part. Now the hard part is to perform and show the world I got a contract for a reason. Now I can play against grown men."
Tyler's agent, former NBA point guard B.J. Armstrong, said several offers were carefully considered.
"It's a huge step for him and his family and the things he's about to get into," Armstrong said. "The basketball will be the easiest part in this equation. Now he's got to get things adjusted off the court to what a professional does, how he lives. It'll be a challenge. The rest will take care of itself."
Sonny Vaccaro, the former shoe company executive who's been advising Tyler and his family, said Maccabi Haifa is a good fit for several reasons.
"I think it's a very good deal for Jeremy because it's a good team, he'll play, they speak English and he'll learn there," Vaccaro said. "The reason we did one year was because it will give Jeremy time to understand how hard it is to be a professional, then he'll do whatever he wants to do next year."
Vaccaro said Tyler had five other offers, including one from a team for more money, "but Jeremy, his family and I decided it was more important to have a chance of playing than making a couple extra dollars. If Jeremy is who he's supposed to be, he'll earn a lot of money in his lifetime."
In early May, Tyler told The AP that he was tired of facing triple-teams, being hacked and being limited to playing the middle when he felt he had much more to his game.
"I was the best player in San Diego this year and it was boring. Next year, it would be extremely boring," Tyler said then. "I'd go into the game with no enthusiasm."
Tyler is expected to return to the United States when he becomes eligible for the 2011 NBA draft.
"My goal is to become one of the greatest," Tyler said Wednesday.
Tyler said he likes that Israel is a small country and that the team has young talent that can develop.
"He has a tremendous upside," said Andrew Wilson, a spokesman for American businessman Jeffrey Rosen, who owns Maccabi Haifa. "He's definitely got a lot of talent and is hungry, and we're an up-and-coming team, as the team has been in the Premier League only one year, so it seems like a very nice fit for us."
Maccabi Haifa was promoted to the Premier League after a 10-year absence and earned its first appearance in both the Israeli Premier League championship game as well as the State Cup Finals. The team has re-signed forward Davon Jefferson of Southern Cal.
Maccabi Haifa opens its season on Oct. 25.
"Tyler's size and natural talent will present matchup problems in our favor against other teams in Israel," coach Avi Ashkenazi said in a statement. "We know Tyler is hungry to prove himself on the court. We look forward to him developing over the course of the season and improving our team."
Wilson said Rosen bought the North American rights to Premier League games and plans to stream Maccabi Haifa games live on www.triangleinternet.tv as a way to promote the league in the United States.
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