By STARR BEGLEY, For The Maui News
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
LAHAINA- Jeremy Tyler has been creating a stir about his size from the start.
The San Diego High School junior weighed in at a whopping 11 pounds and measured almost 2 1/2 feet at birth, and agrees that the idea that he and his size-18 feet are still growing is ''scary.''
The Cavers star, now a quarter-inch shy of 7 feet, helped his team place second in the Maui Christmas Classic - San Diego lost 56-51 to Marist (Ga.) on Monday at the Lahaina Civic Center in the final, but Tyler had 19 points, 17 rebounds and 12 blocked shots.
He's among the most talented high school juniors in the country - rivals.com's fourth-ranked power forward and ninth-ranked overall player - and has made a verbal commitment to Louisville.
''Coach (Rick) Pitino is one of the greatest coaches to me,'' Tyler said. ''Wherever I want to get, he'll help me get there. He has a really good program, a lot of experience coaching and I think he can teach me a lot. It all boiled down to Louisville. It was a perfect fit.'' Many schools showed interest.
''Every school except Duke sent a letter or made a phone call,'' said Cavers coach Kenny Roy.
''Everyone wanted Jeremy Tyler.''
Said Christmas Classic organizer and former Maui Interscholastic League coach Sky Nelson: ''He's definitely the best pro-level prospect from high school that's ever played here on Maui.''
Some have speculated that Tyler, who is averaging 35 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks per game, may head to the NBA after one year in college.
''The media and scouts have watched Jeremy develop over the years and seen his maturity,'' Roy said. ''They call him a 'one year and done.' ''
Tyler, however, isn't getting ahead of himself.
''That's a life decision,'' he said. ''If the opportunity is there, most of the time that kind of opportunity comes once in a lifetime. So me, my family and my coaches need to make that decision if it comes up.''
For now, he's getting the chance to see the Valley Isle.
''I've really enjoyed myself here on Maui,'' he said. ''I've never seen such a beautiful sight. I've never been in such clear water. I hope I'm back soon.''
Tyler has been drawing attention from more than just coaches. At one point, he had television crews following him at home, school and the court for a documentary.
Add that to all the recruiters, and the Cavers have the potential for debilitating distraction. His teammates, though, view it all as a positive.
''With Jeremy getting all this media attention, more colleges come and look at him as well as us, what we do as a team,'' said junior teammate Martin Thomas. ''As a team we have to behave better and make better decisions because more people are looking at us because of who we have.''
Xavier Roy, a sophomore and the coach's son, said he has learned a lot from being Tyler's teammate.
''Having Jeremy on the team helped me during freshman year to build up and develop for who I am now,'' he said.
Kenny Roy is in his fourth year at San Diego - the Cavers have won league championships each of the last three seasons and averaged better than 21 wins. San Diego was 23-4 last season.
''At this particular time, we've seen our team from the number-one team in the county to the fifth in the state and the 30th in the country,'' Kenny Roy said. ''So, we're not only locally recognized, state recognized, we've become a nationally recognized high school basketball team.''
Tyler has been playing for the San Diego varsity since he was a freshman.
''Jeremy took the team on his shoulders and we've been riding ever since,'' Roy said.
NBA dreams were not what prompted Tyler to first pick up a basketball - it was being too tall to do anything else.
''I started in 6th, 7th grade,'' he said. ''I got serious in the 8th grade. By 9th, 10th grade, I was rated the number-one player in the nation. So for kids that have dreams to play, I say to work hard and they can achieve their dreams like I am.''
When asked about the pressure that comes with his talent, Tyler seemed focused on making the best of it.
''It affects me in a positive way,'' he said. ''It makes me a better player and stronger person. Whatever they're saying that I'm not doing right, I'm either going to work harder to do everything perfect, or just don't listen to the negative and accept all the positive.''
Roy sees Tyler maturing and advancing at a steady pace.
''His athleticism is his strength,'' Roy said. ''He's a super athlete. His weakness is that he still has to mature more on the basketball court. Once he develops that, he'll be an unstoppable player.''
Tyler has dealt with issues much bigger than basketball.
In July, his cousin Todd Doxey, a football player at the University of Oregon, died in a swimming accident. Tattooed on Tyler's upper chest is the phrase, ''God is on my side'' flanked by the initials ''T'' and ''D.''
'' 'God is on my side' were his last words,'' said Tyler. ''This was the biggest thing that's ever happened to me. It changed me a lot. Made me realize how short life is and how you need to cherish and live every day to the fullest.''