Derrick Caracter – The Sequel

One can only imagine my excitement yesterday afternoon when, while checking to see if Lexpats had topped the 30-hit mark for the fourth consecutive day (yes!), I noticed that there had been not one, but two posts by bloggers other than myself since the last time I’d logged on.  We’re not in the habit of keeping blogging/posting records around here, but I get the feeling that if we did, today’s two-post explosion would shatter many and create a jovial commotion on par with WVU’s celebratory couch burnings.

I encourage everyone to check out denimjersey’s and reverselexpat’s triumphant returns below.  DJ brought the link thunder, while RLP (do we like this initails-as-nicknames stuff?  or no?) did that thing where he steals my ideas and operates under the assumption that this site is dedicated to the urinary tracts of robotic golfers.  I don’t have the heart to tell him any different.

But I’m also excited for another reason.  I’d been trying to find an angle on the Jeremy Tyler and Derrick Caracter stories from last week ever since I read them, but was having a rough go of it.  Then, this little gem dropped out of the sky (and onto The Big Lead) and gave me the inspiration I’d been looking for.

Tim Sullivan wrote a nice piece for the San Diego Union-Tribune this weekend that summed up Tyler’s failed journey into the world of European hoops with this this: Tyler needs not worry, for this is far from the last chance he’s going to get.

The problem is, he’s absolutely right.  Somebody else, be it another Euro-squad or a D-League team, will take a chance on Tyler in the upcoming season, and unless his second attempt at a pro-basketball career goes even worse than his first, an NBA team will do the same in June of 2011.  You’ll read stories about Tyler’s failed Euro adventure that will end with the writer telling you how Tyler’s learned from it all, changed for the better, and is out to prove his naysayers wrong with whatever team’s decided to take a chance on him.  Then, most likely, Tyler will revert to his old ways and make whatever team invested a lot of money in him look foolish.  It’s what guys like him do.

For those of you not familiar with Tyler’s story, let me catch you up to speed:

– At one time (roughly two years ago), Tyler was considered a hoops prodigy.  He was one of the highest-rated players in the 2010 class, and had already given his verbal to play for Rick Pitino at Louisville.

– At sneaker-mogul Sonny Vaccaro’s urging, Tyler announced in April of last year that he was entering uncharted territory: he was going to quit high school at the end of his junior year to play basketball in Europe.  Though a few players before him had toyed with the idea of going pro before finishing high school, Tyler was the first to actually see it through.

– Tyler cited “lack of competition” as his main reason for the decision, saying “I was the best player in San Diego this year and it was boring. Next year, it would be extremely boring. I’d go into the game with no enthusiasm.”.

– In August 2009, Tyler signed a one-year, $140,000 contract with Maccabi Haifa, an Israeli pro team.

– Then, in November, the NY Times published this article, a feature piece on Tyler’s first few months in Europe.  In short, it was just about the most unflattering piece of journalism ever written about a 17-year-old basketball player, which is saying something.  A couple of highlights:

His coach calls him lazy and out of shape. The team captain says he is soft. His teammates say he needs to learn to shut up and show up on time. He has no friends on the team. In extensive interviews with Tyler, his teammates, coaches, his father and advisers, the consensus is that he is so naïve and immature that he has no idea how naïve and immature he is. So enamored with his vast potential, Tyler has not developed the work ethic necessary to tap it.

“Tyler still talks openly about retiring with $200 million in the bank after a 15-year N.B.A. career. He also talks about modeling, the documentary being made about him, and how he and his girlfriend, Erin Wright, the daughter of the rapper Eazy-E, will grow up to be an American power couple.”

Tyler’s European nightmare finally came to an end last week when, two months short of fulfilling his contract, he quit the team and came back home to San Diego.  Tyler’s numbers in the ten games he played for Maccabi Haifa: 2.1 points and 1.9 rebounds in 7.6 minutes/night.  No word on whether or not his boredom with basketball was remedied.

– What’s worse, by the end of Tyler’s run, he wasn’t even suiting up.  He watched the final three games of his European basketball career in street clothes.

– To top it off, Tyler quit the team in classic prima donna fashion: he booked his flight home without telling his agent, parents, or coaches, and he informed the team of his decision around noon of the day he was set to fly home.

It is at this point that I wish to pose the question…Why the fuck would anyone be willing to take a chance on this kid? And by take a chance, I mean draft and invest several million dollars of your team’s money in someone that couldn’t last seven months in a European pro league?  Keep in mind, this wasn’t a college freshman transferring from a program because adjustment problems or a mean coach, this was a kid that was being payed a doctor’s salary to play basketball for ten months.  He signed a contract, didn’t produce, alienated his coaches and teammates, and skipped town without warning.  Does this sound like someone you’d want in your locker room?

It’s worth mentioning at this point that Brandon Jennings, who is currently doing quite fine in the NBA, had his share of troubles during his European experience as well.  It’s also worth mentioning that Jennings at least made it through.

The NY Times did the same sort of piece on Jennings while he was in Europe; at the time, he was the first big-time prospect to go the Europe-over-college route and many recruiting experts were saying that if his trip was a success, more blue chippers may follow suite.  But Jennings’ piece, like Tyler’s, didn’t have a very triumphant tone.  And while neither sounded like they were having the time of their life, there was a noticeable difference in their attitude and message.

Jennings sounded like a Marine fresh out of boot camp –  broken down and rebuilt for the better.

Tyler just sounded like a brat.

Jennings talked about his in-game struggles and how tough the transition had been for him, but he also noted how he’d matured and accepted his role.

Tyler talked about his plans to spend the money from an NBA career he doesn’t have.

But the bottom line?  Jennings stuck it out and Tyler didn’t.  Neither looked like an all-star, but only one did things that should (but probably won’t) put his NBA stock in jeopardy.  You could even argue that Jennings’ handling of the whole experience actually improved his draft status; suddenly, his weaknesses became his strengths: he was tough, mature, and coachable.

It’s tough to imagine any of those adjectives being applied to Tyler’s game right now.

All that brings me to the second Times profile of the week that drew my interest, “Derrick Caracter Finds Measure of Success at UTEP.”  The sub-header for this one was “Can’t-Miss Prospect May Make It After All,” but just as easily could’ve been, “Jeremy Tyler: You’ve Been Warned.”

Anyone who even passively follows college basketball recruiting has to remember Derrick Caracter.  As an eighth-grader Caracter was already 6’8”, labeled a prodigy, and for some reason, always carrying around a stuffed orangutan named Ollie.  This unique blend of size, talent, and cuddly primate made him an instant celebrity in recruiting circles.

Unfortunately for him, Caracter, both in terms of basketball talent and likeability, peaked as an eighth-grader.  Fortunately for basketball, no person or team ever had to invest money (at least not legally) just to watch him fail.

His high-school and college careers (up to this point) are better remembered for his off-the-court fuck ups than his actual on-court production.  He was still considered a stud when he committed to Louisville, but he showed up to campus 50-pounds overweight and, despite a few strong showings, never materialized.  Pitino eventually kicked him off the team, and he now averages 14 and 8 for a 12-seed.

Point being, Tyler has the makings of a Caracter 2.0.  They have all the same symptoms: immature, defiant, entitled, no willingness to listen, an obsession with a lifestyle that they don’t have the work ethic to achieve, etc.  People gave Derrick Caracter every chance in the world and look where it got him.  People will almost certainly do the same with Tyler, and I’m willing to bet it gets him to a similar place.

At some point, teams, both college and pro, need to figure out that money only makes these players more of what they already are.  If Caracter and Tyler can’t fully commit themselves to basketball now, what makes you think they’ll be able to when they’re millionaires?  Character (no pun intended) matters.  It doesn’t take a shrink to realize both of these guys lack it.

In honor of DJ’s and RLP’s return to the site:


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