Early in December 2015, the Oregon men’s basketball team traveled to Las Vegas to face a talented University of Nevada Las Vegas team at the MGM Grand Hotel. It was the first road game of the year.
Midway through the second half, the Ducks were fighting to get back into the game.
With 9:52 left on the clock, Oregon freshman guard Tyler Dorsey leapt for a routine rebound. The result was a gruesome and awkward landing on his left knee.
Head coach Dana Altman immediately rushed to the floor expecting the worst: a season-ending injury. Dorsey, who had played only six games with the Ducks, was understandably speechless.
In the stands were Dorsey’s parents, Jerrid and Samia Dorsey. Before they could get to the floor, Tyler was rushed to the locker room for further evaluation.
His mom was one of the first people he saw.
Tyler had one question when she entered.
“What is the score of the game?”
Once the injury was deemed a minor knee sprain, Tyler was back on the Oregon bench next to Altman. Before five minutes had gone off the clock, Tyler re-entered the game.
“He’s always been like that competitor-wise, teammate-wise and most people don’t know that,” Jerrid said.
Tyler is currently averaging 13.8 points on 47 percent shooting this season, making him one of the most efficient freshmen guards in the Pac-12 and the country. From beyond the three-point line, he’s shooting 45 percent, ranking him fifth-best in the conference.
On the court, Dorsey, who will have an opportunity to declare for next year’s NBA draft, is relaxed, measured, quiet and — most importantly — coachable. Mature beyond his years, he’s a fundamentally sound guard who doesn’t try to be any flashier than he needs to be, even if those most familiar with his game would like to see him be more assertive.
Look no further than his experience with the U19 Greek National team this past summer, where Dorsey managed to lead the team in points and minutes, despite coming off the bench.
“It was an eye-opening experience for him about how there’s a whole other world of basketball out there,” CBS sports college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb said.
For a player who’s been regarded as a success at all levels of the game, it’s Dorsey’s selfless approach to the game that separates him from other top-tier, NBA-bound players.
All of his life, Dorsey has been a winner. Ranked the nation’s top player in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grade, the 6-foot-5 Southern California-bred prodigy has always positioned himself for the spotlight.
A month after his 19th birthday, Dorsey, a senior transfer, led Maranatha High School to its first 2015 California Interscholastic Federation Division 4A title in his hometown of Pasadena, California.
Dorsey, who went on to win Gatorade State Player of the Year, delivered a modest 25 points — he was averaging 34.3 on the season — that historic Friday night.
If there was a time for Dorsey to pump his chest out and soak in the limelight, this was it. Instead, the high school senior embraced his team, not making the moment any bigger than it needed to be. He spent the next day playing video games with his friends.
“The new guy, big man on campus — he could have big-timed everybody, and he didn’t,” Maranatha head coach Tim Tucker said. “He had just won a state championship the year before. [But] the demeanor never changed.”
Constantly in the gym perfecting his game and searching for competition against older players – many of whom have gone on to the NBA and major Division I programs – it didn’t take long for Dorsey to surface as a top-tier prospect. He was offered a scholarship from Arizona before he reached ninth grade.
NBA trainer Joe Abunassar of Impact Basketball, who has trained greats like Kevin Garnett points out that for kids around that age, “you just never know.” But, with Dorsey, “he was always one of those guys that was a little bit different, little bit better, more advanced and definitely had a good chance to be a very good player.”
Combining his raw talent and relentless work ethic with a rare sense of humility that stems from a supportive family, there was little doubt that Dorsey was bound for primetime basketball.
“The reason why Tyler is the way he is is because of his parents,” Abunassar said. “They have a different perspective on things, always able to keep him grounded. They didn’t get caught up in the hype.”
Dorsey’s true test of character can be shown through his many playing years under the Amatuear Athletic Union umbrella, a non-professional national organization where aspiring players under 19 can showcase their talents.
But, sometimes, those involved succumb to being overwhelmed and manipulated by the outside distractions that exist in today’s endorsement-driven, coach-controlled sub culture.
“They begin to ‘expect’ favors especially with the nature of AAU basketball, with the commercialization of the shoe companies … constantly giving away free gear and treating elite players as if they have ‘already made it,’ ” NBA trainer Siddarth Sharma said.
It’s what’s led to recent scandals like former Kansas star and current Sacramento Kings player Ben McLemore “receiving thousands of dollars in cash” in 2013 and nationwide investigations that have attempted to unveil what a 2011 SB Nation article labeled as the “cesspool for corruption and deceit and conflicts of interest,” referring to the AAU.
Dorsey and his family managed to avoid these temptations.
“They’ve done it the right way,” Oregon assistant coach Tony Stubblefield said. “A lot of guys get caught up in the system. They did everything to protect him to not fall into those traps.”
Just like when he was a senior in high school, Dorsey is once again a newcomer on his team. This time, he’ll be aiming to help Oregon win the Pac-12 championship, and ultimately, make a deep postseason run in March. Similarly, he’ll be looking to help his team in any way, regardless of his individual accolades.
Next month, Dorsey will turn 20, about a year after he led Maranatha to its first CIF championship.
“Tyler has always been able to see the big picture,” Abunassar said. “It was always about getting better, developing and playing against the best.”
Follow Hayden Kim on Twitter @HayDayKim