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Tyler raising his game as season progresses

by Ed Odeven

Jeremy Tyler, still a few months shy of his 20th birthday, is no stranger to NBA talent evaluators. Though he’s playing halfway around the world, the Tokyo Apache’s highly touted 210-cm prospect is being closely watched.

“I’ve had about five teams contact me for video, but I know his agent has been speaking with, and providing video for many more,” Apache general manager Conor Neu told The Japan Times a few hours after the team’s double-overtime loss on Wednesday against the Akita Northern Happinets.

In other words, Tokyo’s game highlights, specifically Tyler’s, have been seen in NBA team offices, home living rooms and on more than a few laptop computer media players.

NBAdraft.net has come up with its 2011 mock draft, and in its latest projections on Wednesday it has Tyler to be the 33rd pick, taken by the Sacramento Kings. A few days earlier, he was projected as the No. 35 pick to the Toronto Raptors, who are run by Bryan Colangelo, son of longtime Phoenix Suns executive Jerry Colangelo, the architect of Team USA’s recent national team.

Apache coach Bob Hill said talent alone isn’t the only factor in the way players are drafted nowadays.

“We’ve started drafting players on potential,” he said. “No 19-year-old is going to go into the NBA and help you win. It’s not going to happen. As great as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant were (coming out of high school) . . . you can help a team win but you are not going to go in and impact a team.

“So now we are drafting these young ones and the D-League (NBA Development League) is a big part of it.”

“His progress has been solid. He’s gotten a lot better lately and we’ll get back to the States and get him ready for the draft.”

Tyler has come off the bench in 32 games he’s played. He’s averaging 15.6 minutes per game, 9.4 points and 6.2 rebounds.

If his minutes were doubled, resembling those of a typical starter’s, he’s approaching All-Star-caliber statistics. Case in point: He had 12 points, seven rebounds and two assists in 19 minutes, 32 seconds on Wednesday.

In recent weeks, Tyler has shown more assertiveness on the offensive end. He has scored in double-digits in nine of the past 11 games (with a season-high 27 on Nov. 7). In limited minutes, he’s also had six games with 10 or more rebounds.

“The draft process has changed. For a long time, the pre-draft camp that we held in Chicago was a significant part of the draft,” said Hill, the former Knicks, Pacers, SuperSonics and Spurs coach. “That’s all changed.

“The most important aspect of pre-draft time is the individual visits that the players have to each team, and that’s like a three-week period.”

These visits include on-court workouts, psychological tests, weight-lifting and “a little bit of everything,” he added.

“That’s become a very, very important part of this and I think that’s where Jeremy’s got to be ready when he gets back (after the bj-league season) to go in and perform.”

Nobody said this time-consuming process will be easy for the San Diego native, but it’s been carefully calculated since he opted to work with Hill and put his disappointing, shortened first pro season in Israel behind him.

“I’ve been working with him since July so it’s been a long, long, long experience,” Hill said, reflecting on Tyler’s development as a player. “He has made significant progress, I would say, in the last month, maybe, month and a half.”

“He was turning the ball over and he was fouling early on and he was doing some good things. The one thing the kid does all the time is rebounding (seven boards in 18 minutes, 48 seconds on Wednesday), and for a 19-year-old, usually he’s better than that.

“He has this propensity where he wants to score where a lot of young guys think that’s the answer to their prayers. They have no idea that their not going to score in the NBA for five or six years, but his footwork has gotten better, he’s not fouling as much.”

Tyler does not receive preferential treatment from Hill. Instead, he is constantly challenged to play tough, smart basketball.

Or as Hill put it: “He got upset with the officials tonight and (the Happinets) got a layup at the other end of the floor and I took him out him out. He’s still young and he’s still going to make mistakes, but he’s making fewer mistakes now and his fouling and his turnovers (are decreasing), although he had a couple of terrible turnovers tonight.”

Hill’s coaching peers recognize Tyler’s potential but also his shortcomings, including poor free-throw shooting (47-for-101), at this stage of his promising career.

“When he kind of stays within himself and stays focused, he’s really good,” Akita coach Bob Pierce said of Tyler. “He still travels too much and kind of has happy feet. When he kind of learns to settle down and just use his natural ability, he’s got a lot of it.”

Room for growth: Sendai 89ers guard Mac Hopson has impressed many people around the league with his all-around ability and leadership skills this season.

After Hopson’s 40-point, nine-assist effort on Sunday, Broncos coach Bob Nash, the former Hawaii head coach, offered this assessment of the rookie’s future:

“I know Hopson because he played in our league at Idaho when I was in college so I know him very well. . . . He’s just a great competitor at both ends of the floor. On the offensive end he’s very aggressive, on the defensive end, he takes pride in his defense and for a guard his size 184 cm), he really rebounds very well.

“He is probably one of those guys that’s on the verge perhaps of making it to the next level, with the NBA as a possibility. He has the engine. He’ll probably continue to need to develop his outside shooting to perhaps get to that other level.”

Hopson is the league’s second-leading scorer (21.3 points) and passer (5.6 assists) in 36 games. He’s shooting 31.5 percent from 3-point range.

Weekly accolade: Hopson is the Lawson/Ponta Player of the Week after leading the 89ers to a two-game sweep over the Broncos, the league announced on Wednesday. He had 19 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and three steals on Saturday, followed by the aforementioned 40-point outburst, including 14-for-16 at the free-throw line, in the series finale.

Upcoming games: This weekend’s matchups are as follows: Shiga vs. Oita, Kyoto vs. Osaka, Hamamatsu vs. Ryukyu, Niigata vs. Sendai, Saitama vs. Toyama, Miyazaki vs. Shimane and Fukuoka vs. Takamatsu.

Injury update: Sendai 89ers guard Kenichi Takahashi has missed the past two games while coping with sciatic nerve pain in his leg. Team trainer Yuichi Kitagawa is closely monitoring his progress but didn’t have a clear timetable for Takahashi’s return.

“It’s like a pinched nerve, pain and numbness to his leg, that’s why he is sidelined,” Kitagawa said on Sunday after the Saitama-Sendai game. “It’s day by day, just depends on how he feels.”

“We can’t really tell exactly (when he’ll return), next week, two weeks. We really don’t know.”

With the capable scorer (7.3 ppg this season; he averaged a career-best 10.9 in 2009-10) sidelined, 89ers coach Honoo Hamaguchi is challenging other backcourt and wing players to step up their game in his absence, including up-and-coming standouts Takuya Komoda and Lee Hyecheon and veteran Hikaru Kusaka.

“Of course without Takahashi other players have more playing time, but before Takahashi was injured it was Komoda and Lee (gaining increased minutes in the rotation),” Hamaguchi said. “So now it’s his turn to work harder to earn this playing time (minutes). But I’m hoping to see guys competing (for minutes)” regardless of who’s starting.

Lee, a native of South Korea, said Hamaguchi’s meticulous preparation for the game and confidence in his players has helped him adjust to playing pro ball in Japan.

Emperor’s Cup invite: Published reports state the Japan Basketball Association has asked the bj-league to participate in the All-Japan Championship next January in Tokyo.

The league will ask each of the teams about possible participation, with perhaps two bj-league teams playing in the traditional holiday event for the first time. An announcement is expected later this month.

Rule differences between the JBL and bj-league, such as the on-the-court-foreigner rule (three in the bj-league, one in the JBL), as well as potential scheduling conflicts could keep bj-league teams out of the event, though, for at least another year, possibly longer.

One league insider speculated that the Ryukyu Golden Kings and Niigata Albirex BB could play in the All-Japan tournament, though the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix are also being mentioned as a possibility, while also offering an intriguing suggestion: an all-bj-league team, comprised of talented players from several teams, sort of like a second national team.

The rumor mill: The Chiba Jets are currently negotiating with an American coach in preparation for the club’s inaugural season in 2011-12, a team spokesman said on Tuesday.

The Jets are planning to make an announcement by the end of April, the source added.

Others sources have told The Japan Times that an American coach not named David Benoit in Qatar is the guy the team plans to hire. This leads to speculation that the team’s potential coach could be Brian Rowsom, a former NBA and JBL player who led the Oita HeatDevils during the 2009-10 season (the club made a 17-win improvement under Rowsom, going from 8-44 in 2008-09 under Tadaharu Ogawa to 25-27).

Rowsom, the current Al Ahli coach, however, insisted on Thursday via e-mail that he’s not in the running for the Chiba job.

Benoit, meanwhile, is also in Qatar and a source said the former Saitama Broncos and Kyoto Hannaryz sideline supervisor is interested in coaching the Yokohama B-Corsairs next season. If Benoit, who was fired after less than a season with Kyoto, is named the Yokohama coach, many people would be surprised. Saitama failed to make the playoffs under Benoit and a coach with limited success probably won’t be the first one in league history to be named the bench boss of three clubs.

The expansion Shinshu Brave Warriors, set to began their first season in the fall, meanwhile, could name a current high school coach as their first bench boss, a league source said.

Name unveiled: Next season’s final name-the-team process has ended, with the Morioka, Iwate Prefecture-based club deciding to call itself the Iwate Big Bulls.

Based on its geographical location and rural setting, the team chose Bulls as part of its name in reference to the farming that takes place in the northern Tohoku prefecture.

A coach’s perspective: In the interview room after Wednesday’s double-OT contest, Akita bench boss Bob Pierce was asked what it’s like to coach against Hill, who has quickly become a household name around the league since he was named the third coach in Apache history last summer.

Pierce responded by saying, “Well, fortunately, I’ve known Bob for quite some time. We’ve done camps together in the U.S. and China and I’ve stolen a ton of (his) drills. I do a whole bunch of his drills. . . . But I was worried (on Wednesday) because every time we he had a lead and we thought we had them, they’d run a nice little set and do something to get our big guys switching (on defense) and it’d leave Cohey (Aoki) or Jumpei (Nakama) wide open in the corner for a 3. “I was just really proud of our guys, especially Sek (Henry, who scored 42 points) and Tony (Antonio Burks) for just staying focused on the next play. We’ve had a hard time with guys getting so down and so emotional after misses and mistakes that the next play they can’t even focus. They throw a pass out of bounds; that’s why the turnovers are so big.

“Today Sek was really focused. If he made a mistake, he didn’t get mad. He just focused on the next play, and that’s been a huge adjustment. But I tell you what, I knew Bob had some tricks up his sleeve . . . because he’ll come up with something because they have such good players, and I really respect all the players they’ve got — Robert (Swift), Jeremy (Tyler), Cohey and (Kensuke) Tanaka and Jumpei, who are probably the two most improved players in the entire league. Bob does such a good job of training and developing players. That’s why I steal his drills.”

Quotable: “He wants this team to do well and tries to put it on his back to carry it. So when you are limited by injury or illness it takes something away from what you normally would do. Normally, he would be more assertive on the offensive glass and take the ball to the basket a little bit strong. He just didn’t have that snap in his step today.” — Saitama coach Bob Nash, analyzing ex-NBA and current Broncos point guard Kenny Satterfield’s play on Sunday.

Upcoming games: This weekend’s matchups are as follows: Shiga vs. Oita, Kyoto vs. Osaka, Hamamatsu vs. Ryukyu, Niigata vs. Sendai, Saitama vs. Toyama, Miyazaki vs. Shimane and Fukuoka vs. Takamatsu.

Around the league: Former Tokyo Apache coach Joe Bryant and his wife, Pam, sat courtside next to Apache owner Michael Lerch during Wednesday’s game. Bryant, Kobe’s father, guided the JBL’s financially troubled Hokkaido club for the first few months of the season, but he’s now looking for a new gig.

The Bryants recently attended the Sapporo Snow Festival. “It was beautiful,” Pam Bryant said with a smile. . . .

Akita newcomer Will Graves, coming off a 30-point game Saturday against Hamamatsu and 16 against Tokyo on Wednesday, was profiled by his hometown newspaper, the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record on Wednesday (“A new shot in Japan,” the headline declared.)

Graves played college ball at perennial college powerhouse North Carolina, but was dismissed before the season due to a violation of undisclosed team rules.

Closing commentary: Here are two worthwhile suggestions for the league as it strives to be seen as a big-time pro league rather than a modest upstart circuit: 1. Require all players to have their last name rather than a nickname, initial or first name on the back of their jersey. This would add a classy touch of professionalism to the league.

2. Require all teams’ public-address announcers to read the scores of other ongoing games from that day at all league venues. This would give fans a greater sense of unity as they gain more interest in the league in the coming months, years and decades.

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Do you have a story idea about the bj-league? Send an e-mail to edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp