Last year at this time we linked baseball’s "Chosen One," Bryce Harper, and basketball’s "Lightning Rod," Jeremy Tyler, tightly together to form high school sports’ most intriguing and powerful pair.
But in 12 months, that chord has obliterated into at least 15 million pieces. In terms of acclaim, fortune and solid gold futures, they sit on opposite ends.
On Monday, Harper secured the No. 1 pick in the Major League Baseball amateur draft by the Washington Nationals, and with it – thank you, Scott Boras – a probable four-year, $15-million-plus deal.
His and his family’s shocking and scrutinized decision to leave Las Vegas High School after the 10th grade to position Harper early for the Major Leagues looks more than a little brilliant.
On the other end, Tyler’s also-highly dissected choice to leave San Diego High School before his senior year – the first incoming senior ever to do so – appears, at best, to be ill-advised.
With a scholarship to Louisville already secured, Tyler instead took his game and a $140,000 contract overseas to play for Maccabi Haifa in Israel.
The idea was that the extremely athletic 6-foot-11 power forward would progress physically and emotionally playing against bigger and stronger men, making him a sure-fire lottery pick – if not No. 1 choice – in the 2011 NBA draft.
It worked the previous year for another Southern California native, Brandon Jennings, who following a season in Rome was the No. 10 pick overall by the Milwaukee Bucks and made the first-team all-rookie squad in 2009-10.
But within the first three months, Tyler was clearly disgruntled, as were the coaches and players for Maccabi Haifa. According to a New York Times report, Tyler, 18, was described as lazy and out of shape by coaches and simply not mature enough to manage a new setting, a new country and a professional career.
In March, with five weeks left in the season, Tyler quit the team. He played in just 10 games and averaged 2.1 points, 1.9 rebounds and 7.6 minutes.
College career kaput
Conversely, Harper, 17, playing at nearby College of Southern Nevada and living at home with his parents and playing for longtime family friend Tim Chambers, hit .443 with a remarkable 31 home runs, 98 RBI and 20 steals.
The 6-3 catcher, outfielder and Sports Illustrated cover boy was also an honor student after earning his GED in the fall.
Meanwhile, Tyler is back at home in San Diego without a high school diploma. He’s planning his next move, which, according to adviser Sonny Vaccaro (who also advised Jennings), is perhaps a European stint, likely in Italy.
One thing for certain: Tyler’s college career is kaput. He collected money, trashing his amateur standing for life. The NBA Developmental League is a possibility but, at this point, his 2011 lottery status is a half-court heave at best.
Meanwhile, Harper is already set financially for life and is a cornerstone for one of the league’s most promising franchises. Last year’s No. 1 overall pick, pitcher Stephen Strasburg, is scheduled to make his Major League debut for the Nationals today. Harper and Strasburg are the sport’s future dream battery.
"I never doubted it at all," Harper said after Monday’s draft. "I’ve been dreaming about being the No. 1 draft pick since I was 7 years old."
Tyler certainly hasn’t given up on his dream, nor should he. He’s still three or four years removed from when many of the sport’s greats began their professional life – Chamberlain, Russell, Jabbar.
Times are certainly different now. Everything is now, not later. Everyone is in a rush for fame, fortune and the American dream. During a week we lost American icon John Wooden, Tyler should adhere to one of his most famed axioms – "Be quick, but don’t hurry."
OK, you say, so then how did it work so quickly for Harper?
Long shot in faraway land
The disconnect between he and Tyler is clear. Harper’s roots are utterly grounded. His dad is an ironworker. Though the decision to leave high school so early appeared lofty, even arrogant, clearly the thought process was sound, decisive and strong.
Harper was a major-league talent at 16, college ball was out, and he was a great student, so why waste two years diddling on clearly inferior (for him) high school ball fields and in class rooms?
Tyler’s family had similar reasoning, but clearly far less reasonable options.
Harper, a quiet, humble, no-nonsense kid, wasn’t leaving the nest. He had the support of loved ones within a throw from home to second base. Tyler, tightly wound and admittedly self-absorbed, was clear across the continent on his own in a dingy one-bedroom apartment.
Forget about mastering professional post-up moves and footwork. He had to learn to cook his own meals, wash clothes, manage time, speak a language and learn a culture. Harper simply had to get around on faster pitches and throw out faster runners.
In short, Harper was set up to excel. Tyler was a long shot in a faraway land.
Beyond that, basketball itself feeds its future stars an unhealthy diet of "you-are-the-greatest" junk talk, fattening the ego to obese proportions. Baseball, a game of failure, is inherently humbling and requires a lean, nose-to-the-grindstone approach.
Yes, Harper did don the cover of Sports Illustrated with the LeBron James "Chosen One" tag, but his family shut down most of the media requests following the magazine’s portrayal. Tyler, meanwhile, is currently in the middle of a four-year documentary project about his life with the boorish title, "MY LIFE: The fate of a phenom."
Fortunately, no life is fated. Otherwise there would be no reason to work at it or to admire greatness from afar.
I’m hoping Tyler and Harper can re-connect on the power train. But if they don’t, there’s loads for all to learn.