Tyler Hoping that Home Cooking Will Help Him Succeed at Reebok Pro Summer League
By: Mike Swartz

Elton Tyler is like most of the guys playing at the 2003 Reebok Pro Summer League in Boston. He's a young, undrafted free-agent who finished an outstanding college career, and is now trying to claw his way into the NBA by impressing coaches, scouts and NBA personnel directors. But Tyler is hoping that he has a homecourt advantage. Tyler is from West Roxbury, MA, just a long jump shot away from the Clark Athletic Center at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, where the games are being played. It gives Tyler his own cheering section of family and friends who have been coming to see him play for the Atlanta Hawks this week. And he seems to be enjoying the attention.

"It's fun." Tyler said of his experience this week. "It would be different if I was coming in as a drafted player, but you have to pay your dues somehow. But it's definitely fun. My family is out there, I see a lot of my friends out there. Everyone's supporting me." He added, "The crowds are great here. They're packing the gym every game, especially with the kids. Little kids make the most noise ever. It's giving you that great feeling."

The 6'9" forward is trying to take full advantage of the opportunity to learn about NBA basketball this week. "I'm getting some experience from all the coaches we've got, Dominique (Wilkins), Alex English, all those guys that are teaching me the NBA way. So I'm just trying to soak it all in." Tyler said prior to Atlanta's 86-62 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers Thursday afternoon, "Everyone's encouraging on this team." One area of his game Tyler is working on this week is, "the mental aspect, staying focused and playing the full time I'm in there whenever I'm in."

Tyler is well known among local basketball fans. He had an outstanding career at West Roxbury High School, even though, as he said, "I didn't even like basketball when I was younger. I saw it on TV I turned it on, I didn't listen to it. But as I got older I got taller and I started playing on the playgrounds and here I am."

After high school, it appeared that he would remain local and continue his basketball career at Boston College. However, even though he and fellow local product Jonathan DiPina met NCAA academic guidelines, they were denied admission to Boston College, a decision that led to turmoil in Boston College's basketball program. But it all turned out for the best for Tyler. He enrolled at the University of Miami, where he averaged 11.9 points and 5.2 points as a senior and became the only player in the school's history to play in four NCAA tournaments. The situation at Boston College is ancient history to him now. "I don't even think about it at all," he noted. "I went down to Miami and that alone just erased everything that I thought about it. I don't even think about it on a daily basis."

Tyler was not selected in the 2002 NBA draft. He took the course that many collegiate players do, playing oversees. He spent the 2002-03 season with Virtus Ragusa in Italy where he averaged 14.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. "It was good", Tyler said about his time in Italy. "It's always difficult when you've got to learn a new language. But it was a professional league so I got some experience."

Now he is back in the United States, trying to make it in the NBA, just like the players against whom he is competing this week. "The competition is great," Tyler noted "Everyone's here fighting for something. So you have to do the same and raise your activity or whatever you have to do." He is getting an opportunity to show what he can do, averaging 22.3 minutes-per-game in Atlanta's three contests thus far, second on the team to highly regarded rookie Boris Diaw, Atlanta's first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. He has averaged 4.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game and has been Atlanta's first man off the bench in their last two games.

"It's always good when you get in the game. I just try to go in there and give all I had. They want me to go in there, get some rebounds, some points. I try to do whatever I need to do to get better."

He has impressed the Atlanta brass. "I think he's played well," said Atlanta Coach Terry Stotts. "I think he's improved. Even in camp, the first three days, it seemed like he just got better each day. He's a very fundamentally sound player. He has good footwork. (he needs to) figure out the physical nature of the bigger players. But a good kid and works hard."

Tyler is realistic about his chances of making it to the NBA this year. "I just try to stay positive. I don't even think about that. I try to go out there and show what I can do and not try to do anything I can't," he said. "I'm just coming down here to do what I have to do. I can't worry about playing against anyone right now. I'm just giving my best effort." According to Stotts, Tyler is doing what he needs to do to increase his chances of embarking on an NBA career. "What he needs to do is just keep working and whether he comes to our camp or any other NBA camp, you just hope that the opportunity is there and he's able to take advantage of it. But right now as far as making a team, for a guy like Elton, I don't know if you make a team in the Summer League. You create an opportunity to maybe make a team. And I think that's what he's doing right now. From his perspective he's going to probably have decisions to make as far as going to an NBA camp or going oversees. But we've been very pleased with him."

If he is not offered a contract by an NBA team, Tyler said he will, "probably go back to Italy, make some money. But I'm just staying positive right now. We've still got three more games after this one so I'm going to give my all. But I have all the confidence in the world in my ability. I'm just going to keep working hard." Meanwhile, Tyler is, as he concludes, "having a good time and trying to get one of these spots on one of these teams", and hoping that the homecourt advantage he has this week will help earn him a shot in the NBA.

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