It's been well known for a while that Tyler was a prospect, but his AAU team had previously played in a younger division, which hadn't gotten him on a main stage, so to speak, against elite competition.
He did just that in Tucson, showing that he has a very rare combination of size, physical and athletic ability and very advanced skills for his age. With expected development, he could easily project as one of the elite players in the 2010 class nationally.
His mentor, Shawn Manning, has seen it for three years. Manning, whose father played in the NBA and whose brother is an NBA trainer, is known in the San Diego area as a basketball guru. For the last three years, Manning has been tutoring Tyler, and not just in basketball.
"I'm trying to keep him focused on the right goals," Manning said. "It's not only about basketball. It's about being a good person, and doing well academically. Young kids sometimes can't see that. There can be too many bad influences on these kids."
Manning is a full-service mentor, however, not just in life, but in hoops. "We have Jeremy working out quite a bit. He trains every day. He trains with my dad, and other NBA guys. He's worked hard and has a good work habit and that's why the sky's the limit for him."
When you watch Tyler, it's your first question: How can such a young kid, who is still 15-years-old, have such advanced skills? Many times when you see a young post player they have the physical and athletic attributes but it's rare when they have skills. It's reminiscent a bit of Kevin Love, the current #2-ranked player in the nation from Lake Oswego (Ore.) High -- the footwork, touch around the basket and general feel for the game was highly advanced when Love first started playing AAU ball as a high school freshman.
"Jeremy's been coached a lot, and worked individually with NBA-level trainers," Manning said. But then he added with a smile, "There's also the God-given ability."
That ability – and coachability – has already had college coaches make it pretty clear how they feel about Tyler. When asked if Tyler had received mail from college basketball programs, Manning said, "Not just mail. They've come out to see him. This spring, during the evaluation period, he had plenty of coaches that found their way to the far off gym where we were playing in the lower division. Ben Howland of UCLA, Louisville, USC, and Texas all came out to see him."
When asked if Manning thought Tyler had an early preference for college, Manning said: "I would say right now UCLA, because of his family background. His family loves UCLA. They are UCLA fans. And he loves it, too, because we're from Southern California and he's in L.A. all the time. He's been to their games. One of the players on our younger team knows the UCLA players, so Jeremy has been with them and knows them."
But Manning added, "It's still very early, though, for Jeremy. He has a long ways to go."
Tyler is definitely on the right track, with Manning watching over him. Manning said he thinks the right environment has been created for Tyler to excel. "First, he has great family support. His parents are great, and very supportive, in the right way. Then I keep him focused, on basketball and the other important things, like academics. It's a situation that will enable Jeremy to reach his potential."
But along the way, Manning also believes he can't lose sight of the fact that Tyler is still just a kid. "There are times that, with how good he is, you forget he's just 15," Manning said. "You have to keep that in mind."
Manning added: "I think you have to keep it focused, but you also have to keep it fun. Like with this tournament (the Cactus Classic). This was a lot of fun for him. Up until now, in the lower division, he always gets all the attention because of who he is. But in this tournament, there were plenty of other guys, and the focus was on other players, so he had a lot of fun."
Manning also realizes he has to be flexible with Tyler off the court, like with his diet. "We have him on a pretty strict diet. He weighs from 230 to 240, but we'd like to keep him at a strong 230, and we have him eating right. But every once in a while, I allow him to have McDonald's, too."
Probably the area where Manning wields an iron fist, without much flexibility, he says, is in academics. Manning said that, as a freshman, Tyler has about a 3.5 GPA.
"I know what it means," Manning said. "Without academics, your options will be limited." Manning emphasizes it so much to Tyler that the youngster can sometimes get upset with him. "Like this semester, Jeremy had one bad grade. So I said no basketball for a week until that grade is improved, and he didn't play for a week and fixed the grade."
Today in AAU basketball, there aren't many instances where you have that kind of early influence on elite players. "That's why I'm here," Manning said. "To protect Jeremy. He's just a kid and a kid can be influenced. Bu the sky's the limit for him, as long as he stays focused on what's right."