Potential is an intriguing word, a word that packs a punch, a word that grabs people’s attention.

In sports, pro scouts, journalists and coaches are quick to label someone a can’t-miss talent with great potential, and it can be used so often that it loses all impact.

It’s true, though, that Tokyo Apache forward-center Jeremy Tyler has enormous potential as a basketball player. And he’s in the early stages of a career that could someday earn him hundreds of millions of dollars in the NBA.

For now, he’s working diligently under the guidance of ex-NBA coach Bob Hill, who’s in his first year guiding the Apache. Like the 210-cm Tyler, the Apache are a work in progress, with a .500 record through 16 games.

In his first interview of the season with Hoop Scoop, Tyler spoke Sunday about the significant impact Hill has made on his life and in his brief pro career.

Tyler’s headline-grabbing career began in a very unusual way: He opted to turn pro and go to Israel, but had a short-lived stint for Maccabi Haifa last season and complete his GED on his own, rather than stick around San Diego and play his final high school season.

Tyler, who turns 20 on June 21, is eligible for the 2011 NBA Draft, and is preparing himself for the possibility of playing in the world’s best league next season.

(Some analysts project that he’ll be a second-round draft pick.)

Tyler considers Hill the ideal mentor at this stage of his basketball career.

“Coach has done a great job of keeping us (focused) on what we are doing now,” Tyler told me after the Apache wrapped up a four-game homestand with a win Sunday against Shimane.

Tyler had 10 points and eight rebounds in the series finale in 21 minutes a day after notching his second double-double of the season (14 points, 11 rebounds in 19 minutes).

“Me and him and assistant coach Casey (Hill) have set short-term goals,” Tyler admitted, “so maybe this week I’ll focus on keeping the ball up, or sprinting every single play no matter what. Coach is doing a really good job since the day I met him. And he’s going to continue to do it because he believes in me and I trust him.”

Tyler, a strong leaper and a physically gifted athlete, has played in all 16 Apache games (258 total minutes, all as a backup). He’s averaging 9.4 points and a hair under 6 rebounds.

His first double-double of the season, a 27-point, 11-rebound performance on Nov. 11 against the Saitama Broncos, provided a glimpse of the domination he can have in any given game. He is far from finished in learning how to be a complete player.

That’s why Tyler is eager to soak up as much knowledge as possible from a gifted basketball teacher, a man who has mentored former NBA stars Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller, David Robinson and Ray Allen, among others, over the years.

“He shows me and teaches me and I learn from him every single day,” Tyler said without hesitation. “The reason I’m here is because it’s a great program and Coach Bob is here. I couldn’t get a better coach. I couldn’t get a better man, mentor, father figure in my life than coach, really.”

Speaking straight from the heart, Tyler sounded genuine honest when he admitted he isn’t opposed to being chided by Tokyo’s sideline tactician.

“He’ll get on me, but I’ll know it’s all out of love,” Tyler said, “and I know he just wants the best for me. It’s not like he wants anything from me besides the satisfaction of me being happy in my career and moving to the next level, or he feels that I should be and I feel that I should be some day.

“I put a lot of faith in coach and I trust him, so we’ve just got to keep working and grinding at it every single day and keep learning. I came to learn. I came to grow up as a man, a young man, and coach and Casey and this organization are really helping me with that.”

Two winters ago, Tyler was a high school sensation featured prominently on the who’s-who lists of top U.S. schoolboy players. These days, he’s adjusting to the challenges of a schedule that featured large chunks of non-game time (12 games from October to Jan. 6) and 40 game over the next four months.

Tyler’s minutes increased from 9 last Thursday against Oita to 21 on Sunday against the Magic, with games of 14 and 19 minutes sandwiched between them. He’s young so he doesn’t need as much rest between games as a player 10 or 15 years older.

Conditioning-wise, Tyler believes he’s in good shape at this stage of the season.

“Actually, right now I’ve prepared myself for the season and for these four games back to back and coach did a good job of keeping us fresh, so right now I don’t feel too fatigued,” he said. “A good night’s sleep and a half-day off would be good, but I feel pretty good right now.”

So can the players fight off fatigue by exhibiting mental toughness?

“Yeah, it’s all mental,” Tyler said before dishing out some of Hill’s advice. “He always says, ‘You’re not dying, you’re just tired.’ The thoughts of being tired when you can’t go anymore, when he says that ‘you’re only tired,’ then it’s, OK, that’s just it. I can go even harder.

“So basically, he moves our 100 percent to 50 and there’s another step above that. So he brings out the best in us in our conditioning and everything we do.”

The Apache traveled to Kyushu to face the expansion Miyazaki Shining Suns (7-17) this weekend. Days removed from a 2-2 homestand, Tyler and his teammates have a few positives to build on, but not a great sense of accomplishment.

“Around here everybody thinks that losing is like the end of the world, but sometimes we get better (in defeat),” Tyler said. “So after every loss, we’ve gained something from it and fixed what we messed up on in the last game.”

Hill spoke with pride about Tyler’s productivity in the past two games, noting he came close to two double-doubles over the weekend in limited minutes, and how Tyler adds something special to the Apache lineup that can help transform the team from a playoff contender to a great champion.

“My vision for us is to continue to get better and for me to make sure that Jeremy gets better and that the bench continues to grow,” Hill said. “Those are the things that are going to help us be as good as we can possibly be come playoff time.”

Indeed, the potential is there for greatness — for Tyler and this Tokyo team. And Tyler’s promising future remains a subject of great intrigue.


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