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(photo credit: AP)
One of the more anticipated moves in American sports was completed on Thursday when Jeremy Tyler made the jump from high school underclassman to pro basketball player, signing a one-year, $140,000 contract with Maccabi Haifa.
Tyler, 18, is the first American-born player to leave a US high school early to play basketball professionally overseas.
The 2.11-meter, 118-kiloTyler announced in the spring that he was skipping his senior season at San Diego High because prep basketball had become boring.
"I'm very excited to have signed with Maccabi Haifa. I am looking forward to starting my professional basketball career in Israel and helping this team advance to the Final Four," said Tyler of his new team, which gave up the chance to play in European competition next season in order to focus on the local BSL.
"I think I made the right decision. I think this team is a good fit for me and it's the right country."
Tyler is expected to return to the United States when he becomes eligible for the 2011 NBA Draft, where some predict he will be a top pick.
He averaged 28.7 points during his junior year at San Diego High, leading his team to the CIF-San Diego Section Division I quarterfinals.
"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. My goal is to become one of the greatest."
There had been rumors in recent weeks that Tyler was set to join Slovenian Euroleague team Olimpija Ljubljana, so Haifa coach Avi Ashkenazi was clearly delighted with the players final decision and said he believes Tyler is ready to make a significant contribution to his team.
"Tyler's size and natural talent will present matchup problems in our favor against other teams in Israel," said Ashkenazi.
"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."
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 has 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 at the time. "I'd go into the game with no enthusiasm."
Tyler said he likes that Israel is a small country and that the team has young talent that can develop.
Maccabi Haifa, which dropped the word "Heat" from its name earlier this month, impressed last season after being promoted to the top division by reaching the final of both the BSL and State Cup
Haifa owner Jeffrey Rosen has long said that he would like to promote his team and the BSL in the US and the signing of Tyler was a key acquisition in that respect.
"We are very proud to add Jeremy to Maccabi Haifa," said Rosen. "We're excited about the upcoming season and Jeremy fits in very well with our team."