The news that Avery R. Tyler had been charged with homicide hit one of his former basketball coaches at Bellevue University like a punch in the gut.
“I have never been so shocked in my life,” said Bob Ludwig, now an assistant coach at Midland University in Fremont, Neb. “I don't think there is anything in this world that could surprise me more.”
Tyler, 24, twice was named a second-team NAIA All-American at Bellevue.
He obtained a master's degree in management in June and gave an inspiring commencement speech, “The Journey: Overcoming Obstacles in Life,” before 750 Bellevue graduates and their families.
In that speech, Tyler recalled the sacrifices his mother made to send him and his sisters to a private school. He lamented seeing many of his friends die from violence.
“I grew up in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Omaha, where not many success stories exist,” Tyler said. “Instead of attending my peers' graduation ceremonies over the last three years, as should have been the case, I attended funeral after funeral.”
He recalled the tight rein his mother kept on her children and her push for them to embrace their education.
“During the summer months, we used to complain about not being able to run the streets all day like our friends,” Tyler said. “Instead, our mother required us to read a book a week and provide a book report on Friday when she came home from work.”
Tyler was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder in the Sept. 3 shooting of Delayno B. Wright, 24, of Omaha.
The shooting is said to have stemmed from an altercation involving Wright's girlfriend during a body-painting night at a bar. The woman had been painted to look like a zebra.
Tyler, who worked as a business intelligence analyst at Mutual of Omaha, also was charged with two counts of felony gun use. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
Other than a traffic ticket, Tyler's only entry in the criminal justice system was an order to pay child support for his son. He did not contest the order.
Warren Tyler Sr., Avery Tyler's paternal grandfather, said his family is “staying prayerful” and hoping that Avery is “not as involved as they say he is” in the shooting.
“It's a shock for us,” he said. “I'm very disappointed in what I've read and heard. I just don't feel there's anything I could say to change anything.”
Ludwig spoke of the star athlete and student he had come to know in three years at Bellevue. The coach said his sympathy goes out to Wright's friends and family.
“I can't imagine what they are going through,” he said.
Ludwig said Tyler excelled on and off the court.
Twice he was honored as a Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference Scholar-Athlete. He was the 2010-11 Bellevue University Male Athlete of the Year and a two-time all-conference selection. He guided the Bruins to a pair of conference championships and two appearances in the NAIA Men's Basketball National Championship.
“Avery was a leader in all facets,” Ludwig said. “Avery had a near perfect academic record. We took a lot of second- and third-chance type of kids, and he would help them (with their studies). He was a big-time academic student.”
Tyler was the kind of student who tried to help anyone who was struggling, Ludwig said. He described him as something of a “player-coach.”
“If we were doing drills and a kid was having a problem, Avery would jump in immediately and give instruction. You almost wanted him to wait to help the kid until after practice, but he was always helping.”
Ludwig said Tyler talked about growing up under difficult circumstances.
He said Tyler's father left when he was young and only recently came back into the picture. An uncle, Terry Tyler, whom the player looked up to as a father figure, attended every game, even on the road.
“Avery made it very clear that he was trying not to take the path some of the people he grew up around did,” the coach said. “He knew some people that were caught up in some things, but he never did anything wrong on or off the court at Bellevue.”
Should Tyler be convicted, Ludwig said, he “definitely” wants to stay in the young man's life.
“I want to maintain a relationship with him,” he said. “I don't want to give up on him.”
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