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Las Vegan Tyler Bey transforms from prospect to pro

Tyler Bey wanted to quit. He hated the 4 a.m. wake-up calls at Middlebrooks Academy in the Los Angeles area. He loathed the running, the lifting and most of all — the ice baths.

“We had to hold him down there (in the cold tub) a couple times but he eventually got it,” said William Middlebrooks, who founded the Los Angeles area prep school. “Tyler had his challenges with in the beginning. But he finally bought in.”

Bey says he “probably would be in jail or something right now” if he hadn’t.

Instead, he’s a potential first-round pick in this year’s NBA draft on the cusp of a career he couldn’t fathom.

Bey, a 22-year-old Las Vegan, has blossomed from an unranked, anonymous high school recruit into the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and a dynamic professional prospect ranked No. 35 by ESPN. The 6-foot-7-inch forward left Las Vegas High after his junior year to attend Middlebrooks, where he reformed his academic profile and evolved into a high-major recruit.

He spent the ensuing three years at Colorado and concluded his junior year as one of college basketball’s best defenders — equipped with the protypical attributes to become a disruptive defender in the NBA.

“I didn’t see myself where I am today,” Bey said. “I had no clue.”

Becoming a prospect

Bey says he was a “trouble maker” during his youth. One prone to cutting class, poor grades and fights with classmates. His father wasn’t around, his mother worked two jobs and he’d roam the streets of east Las Vegas in her absence until midnight.

Or later.

But he found refuge, structure and purpose in basketball, and began playing competitively as an eighth-grader after moving in with an aunt and uncle. He’d play club basketball for the Las Vegas Prospects and Dream Vision before settling with the Las Vegas Knicks and program director Lamar Bigby, who sought to develop Bey by focusing on the unglamorous aspects of the game.

“I felt that he could do something at a high level that no one else was doing if someone emphasized it to him. And that was being a great defender and rebounder,” Bigby said. “It was tough because that part of the game wasn’t being glorified…but I knew he was athletic enough, and he could play basketball good enough that if he could rebound and defend, he would find ways to score.”

And he did.

Bey excelled for the Knicks on the Adidas circuit and for the Wildcats, averaging 17 points and 7.3 rebounds during his junior year of 2014-15. But his unsatisfactory grades were emerging as a barrier for college admission and recruitment, so he left Las Vegas for Middlebrooks and the rigid structure its founder provides.

“We have a machine,” Middlebrooks said. “The first thing that I believe relative to guys that are pros and high major basketball players is it’s a lot less to do with on the court stuff and a lot more in terms of the mental game and the habits. … If I can get those guys to understand that stuff, then the progression on the court will follow.”

Bey spent two years at Middlebrooks and still calls it “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” But he developed there the requisite habits to pursue high-major and professional basketball.

He adjusted to the mundane routine of running, lifting weights, practicing and doing schoolwork and decided several times against quitting to return home. And high-major programs began recruiting Bey, who ultimately chose Colorado over San Diego State. Buffaloes coach Tad Boyle affirmed during Bey’s recruitment that he believed he could become an NBA player.

“He was probably the only coach that told me how high of a level I could play at and how much he believed in me,” Bey said. “That was big for me.”

Becoming a pro

Bey signed with the Buffaloes during at the beginning of his post graduate prep year of 2016-17 and played that season with a sense of freedom, joy and dominance.

Middlebrooks called it a swagger compounded by his personal improvement.

“He started to see this hoop thing was probably my deal,” Middlebrooks said. “He took on all comers. He had no fear against anybody. He’d throw his body around. Sacrifice his body. He just worked hard.”

Bey was so accustomed to arduous work by the time he reached Colorado that the collegiate level workouts were actually “easier” than those at Middlebrooks. He started 21 games during his freshman season of 2017-18, averaging 6.1 points and 5.1 rebounds before returning to Las Vegas that summer to work with his club coaches.

He emerged from his sophomore season as one of the conference’s top players, averaging 13.6 points and 9.9 rebounds while claiming the Pac-12’s Most Improved of the Year honor.

“The more I played the more confidence I got,” Bey said. “It was just fun and games. I was just playing and having fun.”

Bey said he considered declaring for the NBA draft after his sophomore year, but ultimately decided to return to Colorado to refine his skills. He extended his range during his junior season, converting 41.9 percent of his 3-point attempts.

He also averaged 13.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks while overwhelming the league as an on-ball and help defender.

“He could make plays for us that only a handful — and when I say handful I mean five or less players in college basketball — could make,” Boyle said. “Whether its an alley-oop dunk or blocking a shot from the weak side, whatever the case may be, he’s got the ability to make those plays that you shake your head and say ‘How did he make that play?’”

Those who know Bey well insist he has the work ethic to embark on a successful NBA career. He is projected in either the first or second round depending upon which mock draft you scout.

He has the makings of a plus defender. The agility to keep up with perimeter players and the size to bang with bigs. He knows he must continue to improve his shooting and ball handling and is already committed to doing so.

“I’ve just got to find my strengths and weaknesses in the league and work on that,” Bey said. “Go from there really.”

Those runs, workouts and ice bathes were all worth it.

The unranked basketball player from east Las Vegas is going pro.

“He hasn’t even come close to reaching his potential because he had to go to class everyday,” Middlebrooks said. “We replace that class time with gym time? His growth is going to take another jump once he gets an opportunity.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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