Pursuing a dream — especially that of a professional athlete — involves work, sacrifice, dedication and more work.
For Tyler Hagedorn, pursuing his dream to someday play in the NBA has included living and playing abroad where hardly anyone spoke English, being pushed to keep working after exhaustion, then getting a reward after being taken as the second overall pick in the 2021 NBA G League Draft.
The highs and lows last year have been typical of how Hagedorn’s basketball career has gone. The 2015 Nebraska Gatorade player of the year and Norfolk High School graduate has tasted success throughout his career, which has continued to keep him reaching for the next level.
He’s also experienced setbacks, including missing the 2018-19 season with a medial plantar fascia tear at the University of South Dakota.
After high school, Hagedorn went to USD, where he led the nation his final year in 3-point percentage among those with at least 140 attempts. At 6-foot-10, it might be surprising to learn that such a big man made 51.4% of his 3s, shot 82% from the free throw line and was ninth in Division I with a true-shooting percentage of 68.1. He was a first-team All-Summit selection, averaging 18.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game his senior year.
After college, he played overseas. He signed with Buducnost, the premier team in the Montenegrin Basketball League.
“Overseas last year, I played against some really good players here and there. Not every single night, but I did play against some NBA guys every few games. It would just kind of depend who we were playing. In the G League, every single team has at least a couple of guys who have NBA experience. That’s no different than my team (College Park). We have a few guys who have played multiple times in the NBA,” Hagedorn said. “It is a very talented league.”
Hagedorn said NBA players seem to be a little faster, more athletic and just better overall. Take Jalen Johnson, who is a teammate of Hagedorn’s at College Park. Johnson played at Duke and was the 20th pick by Atlanta in this year’s draft.
“Obviously, he doesn’t have the NBA experience right now, but you can see the talent is there,” Hagedorn said.
In the NBA, players are “really good at some aspect.” Some might be a great defender or shooter, or have high basketball IQ, or are great at blocking shots or rebounding. They all have a skill or two where they are truly better than just about anybody, Hagedorn said.
“You have to be able to do at least one thing at an extremely high level,” Hagedorn said, “or you have to be able to do everything at a very high level to be in the NBA. I think that is what it comes down to. You can’t have a lot of weaknesses, and you have to have some strengths that are really, really strong.”
Hagedorn’s strengths include his shooting ability and his versatility to play outside, especially given his size. His weakness includes his athleticism, he said.
“I can play both the 4 spot and the 5 spot,” he said. “Offensively, I can be a mismatch at both positions and, obviously, my shooting ability is my biggest strength. My biggest weakness is definitely my ability to defend, especially against really athletic, quick players. And then, obviously, trying to defend against the guys who are beasts, like 7 feet and 250 or 260 (pounds).”
Hagedorn said he is working on his strength to try to handle the bigger players, as well as his foot speed. Luckily, basketball is a team sport so players can be put together to try to accommodate all the players’ strengths and weaknesses.
Hagedorn said NBA teams have role players and he is trying to find a role now. And he isn’t afraid to put in the work that has been asked of him, just like last year playing overseas.
It has meant not seeing friends and family at Christmas, traveling, always being careful about what he eats and getting plenty of sleep, even if it means sometimes not being able to do what others his age do.
Still, Hagedorn wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, he considers himself one of the luckiest guys in the world because he is getting to pursue a dream — a chance to play in the NBA.
The 25-year-old reflected on everything he had been through, how basketball had given him opportunities to travel and helped him to grow as a person and a ball player. It also helped him to realize how much more work he has to put in on and off the court.
“This is what I have been training my whole life to do,” Hagedorn said. “As a professional athlete, this is what you do. You start to train your body to endure that kind of schedule every day.”
The son of Randy and Patti Hagedorn of Norfolk said he is ready to take whatever role is asked of him. As a role player, the top responsibility is to be ready when his number is called and fill the role asked of him.
The G League has all types of players, ages, physicality and sizes. It contains young players trying to make it to the NBA and former players trying to make it back. It has players who are 19 and players who are in their mid-30s.
Hagedorn said he is glad to be back playing in the United States.
“I’m a transparent guy. I’ll be 100% honest. Last year was the toughest year in my life. I spent eight out of nine months without family or friends in Europe. Every day I would be walking around where their main language isn’t English. I would go home to an empty apartment every single day. Getting through all the culture differences was hard every single day.”
Hagedorn said he was glad that his dad, and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Loschen, visited him, but both were short visits. Loschen is from Omaha and played volleyball at USD.
And as big as the world might seem at times, Hagedorn said he and his girlfriend found out they have something in common. His dad, Randy, is originally from West Point and has many cousins and relatives around there. His girlfriend also has many relatives around West Point, including her grandparents, Harry and Doris Knobbe, and many uncles and aunts.
Hagedorn said he feels humbled to be coming from Norfolk, which truly is a small town in the scheme of things, and have a chance to play in the NBA.
“There are so many people all the way along who have helped me and put so much time and effort into me,” he said. “I’m a loyal guy, being from Norfolk and going close by to a smaller Division I school. I am very humbled.”
Last year was also the first time he didn’t get to spend Christmas at home. That’s made him appreciative.
“This year I get to,” he said. “I will only be home for two days, but I still get to spend Christmas there. It is something I am really looking forward to. There is nothing I enjoy more than going back to Norfolk.”
Hagedorn said for now, he is enjoying the challenge of playing in the G League and he knows he will have to keep working hard, putting in countless hours each day in the gym and lifting weights.
In some ways, it is like every other level he has played at, where he gets a chance to grow on and off the court. And he knows, based on past experience, hard work pays off.
If nothing else, basketball has instilled a workhorse mentality in him.
“I’m adjusting and figuring things out, but so far it has been very good,” Hagedorn said.