The first time Tyler Bey dunked a basketball was in 7th grade. It was after school at basketball practice with his team surrounding him—all waiting to see the only player on the team capable of dunking finally throw it down. And when he did, they all went crazy.
Bey grew up in the entertainment capital of the world: Las Vegas, Nevada. Even though he dunked the ball for the first time in 7th grade, he only started playing basketball for the first time a year before that as it wasn’t the first sport he wanted to play.
“I wanted to play football but my mom wouldn’t let me,” Bey said. “But basketball always took me places. I just hung with it every time.”
Bey wanted to continue going places and he knew it was going to take a lot of work to make it happen—both athletically and academically. “The school I went to was very low education,” Bey said. “Nobody really cared about school. You were on your own and had to figure it out yourself. A lot of people don’t make it out because they are distracted and stuff.”
Distracted would be a word you could use to describe Bey as a kid. When talking with Bey for this story, he was very open about his behavior when he was young, calling himself a “bad kid” and that it was normal for him to get suspended from school and always be in the principal’s office.
“The dean always knew who I was no matter what school I went to,” Bey said. “I got in trouble with the police a couple of times. But I was a good kid at heart. Just didn’t figure it out.”
What Bey needed was someone to help him figure it out and even though he was really close with his family, it was his AAU coach that changed Bey’s life for the better and would become a vital part of the career path Bey would eventually find himself on. It took the coach watching him play basketball one time for him to know how special Bey could be. He stayed connected with Bey, took care of him, and made sure Bey stayed in the gym and not in trouble.
Bey then had a decision to make for high school; should he go the JUCO or prep school route? Bey and his family chose prep school, Middlebrooks Academy in downtown Los Angeles—a big move for a high school student leaving his family back in Las Vegas.
“It was the worst period of my life,” Bey described. “I hated it. I had to leave my family and I was there by myself. It was terrible. My mom didn’t have money like that, but she was sending money whenever I needed it. I wasn’t eating or sleeping a lot… I was at a dark place. I just wanted to quit”
This was the breaking point in Bey’s career as a basketball player. He hated everything about it. The lifestyle and routine. The six hours a day staring at a computer screen trying to keep his grades and GPA up. The distance away from his mother and family. He wanted to give it all up and go back home. But like his early days growing up, it was his AAU coach over the phone that continued to push Bey to fight through it.
“If you want to learn adversity, now is the time,” his coach said to him.
After numerous phone calls with his coach and mom, Bey persevered and took advantage of the opportunity. He would finish his prep career with a 68-point game under his belt, a top 25 player in the state of California by ESPN, and a plethora of college offers on the table a few years later. Without his coach, Bey said he would have never gone to college.
Before Bey committed to Colorado, he had privately committed to San Diego State. But the head coach at Colorado, Tad Boyle, told Bey something that no other coach recruiting him told him. “He was the only coach who told me that I could be a pro,” Bey said. “Literally the only coach. The only coach that believed in me.”
Boyle definitely believed in Bey. After just 12 games into his freshman season, Bey was inserted into the starting lineup and would start for the Colorado Buffaloes the next 87 games over the course of three years. At the end of his collegiate career, Bey would rank in the top-10 in school history in rebounds, double-doubles, blocks, and field goal percentage. He was one of three players in school history to eclipse 1,000 points, 750 rebounds, and 100 blocks.
But everything about Tyler Bey at Colorado started and ended with him on the defensive end. In the 2019-20 season, he won the PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year award over eventual lottery pick Onyeka Okongwu and fellow Dallas teammate, Josh Green. He was also awarded the team’s top defender award all three years he played in college.
“Defensively he is one of the highest rated defenders in college basketball last year and probably the year before as well,” Rick Carlisle said after a training camp practice. The team privately and publicly have raved about Bey being one of the best “defensive analytics” players in college basketball and commonly referred him to being one of the top 2-3 defensive players in the draft.
Bey realizes there is skill and homework you have to put into being one of the best defenders in the game. He commonly spent time researching other team’s opposing players before their matchups so he would know what they would try to do during the game. But you have to want to play defense and that drive and passion for defense is what sets Bey apart from the rest.
“While some people think his athleticism is his greatest asset, we think he can come in and impact the game with his love to defend,” Mark Cuban said of Bey.
“You have to want to do it,” Bey said on defense. “You have to want to learn. It is really just wanting to play defense and having the pride to play it. I love it. It gets my team’s energy going. It gets mine going.”
From day one of training camp, the Mavericks have preached the gospel of defense. That was the number one goal of the offseason in getting better defensively and the majority of the moves were made with that in mind, including getting one of the best defenders in college basketball in Bey. In the draft night deal that swapped former Maverick, Seth Curry, with Josh Richardson of the Philadelphia 76ers, the Mavericks netted the 36thpick in the draft. At the time, Bey had no clue he was going to Dallas. He had two interviews with Dallas before the draft and he personally didn’t think his last interview with them went well from his end. He knew the Mavericks have a top-notch organization and knew they had players like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Luka Doncic. In fact, he has been hearing about Doncic for a few years now as his former international teammates at Colorado would rave about him constantly.
After taking Tyrell Terry at pick 31, they believed Bey five picks later was being extremely undervalued for everything he brought to the table in a league that is starving for wing defenders.
Bey, at 6-7”, ranked in the 85th percentile in college basketball in isolation defense and 97th percentile defending shots around the basket according to Synergy Sports. But as Donnie Nelson likes to point out, “he is one of the best rebounders in the draft” as well.
Bey averaged nine rebounds a game in college—the top rebounder in the PAC-12. Bey would out-rebound eventual first round picks Onyeka Okongwu, Isaiah Stewart, and Zeke Nnaji—all three of whom will play the majority of their time in the NBA at the center position. “People don’t do the dirty work,” Bey said. “Like diving on loose balls and stuff like that. If the ball is going out of bounds on a rebound, I’m going to get it. I just have a nose for the ball.”
Defense and rebounding were the calling cards for Bey, but the key to his potential in the league evolves around the first part of the “3 & D” label. Before you dive into the numbers for Bey’s shooting numbers in college, context is key. He played predominantly inside as a big man for the Buffaloes, therefore limiting his outside shots. Around the basket, Bey shot 63 percent from the field his junior season, ranking in the 85thpercentile in college basketball. From the outside, Bey attempted just 59 3-pointers in three full seasons. While his last season he attempted one 3 a game at a 41 percent clip, his career average from three was just 30 percent.
“I was just spending time working with him on his shooting,” Carlisle said after practice recently. “He has gotten better. He has been working on it. The key for him is to develop into a dependable 3 & D guy. That will help him get on the floor. He will have to play two positions. He will have to know the three and the four and they are both significantly different. With his IQ for the game, I don’t think he has a problem with it.”
The big adjustment for all rookies, but especially rookies on the perimeter is the spacing the NBA game brings compared to college. Bey says he has been learning the plays quick and trying to soak in information from veterans like James Johnson. He knows it is going to take time, but it’s time he is willing to put in by coming in every morning during training camp to work with the Mavs shooting coach, Peter Patton.
“For me it was a confidence thing,” Bey said. “I wasn’t confident in myself when it came to shooting. I shoot so much now that it is natural to me. I feel good when I shoot now.”
“Right now, I feel I can be a 3 & D guy,” Bey continued. “That I can knock down the open shots and get back on defense to do my job.”
Bey set the NBA Draft combine record for forwards with a 43.5 inch vertical, won the PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year and was one of the best rebounders in college, but for him to play a part in the rotation this season as a two way player, he knows that it will depend on his shot. And he is willing to continue to put in the work to where that no longer is a worry. He has shown in the past that he can get better as a player, now should just be another example of that.
Bey strives to be the next Colorado Buffalo to succeed in the NBA. He talks frequently with fellow Colorado alum, Spencer Dinwiddie and Andre Roberson. He even received a draft night message from the “Colorado legend” himself, Chauncey Billups, that meant a lot to him. As the Colorado brotherhood continues to have players ahead of them to be motivated by, the once “bad kid” from Las Vegas looks to be the next NBA player for kids to look up to for years to come.
What is Tyler Bey in five years?
”A reliable player any coach can rely on and a guy people can look up to,” Bey proclaimed.