Ex-Cats

Drip, swag, confidence — Tyler Herro has it. So where does it come from?

Tyler Christopher Herro.

The middle name is almost always left out when discussing the Miami Heat’s 2019 first-round pick, but it’s probably the name that defines him most as a player. That’s because the 6-6, 195-pound guard got his middle name from his father, Chris Herro.

Label the personality trait as arrogant, cocky, swag, drip or simply confidence, Chris and his son both have it.

“I’m just confident,” said Herro, the former University of Kentucky star who will participate in his first full NBA practice when the Heat begins training camp Tuesday at Keiser University in West Palm Beach. “That’s just me trying to prove myself every time I step on the court against whoever I’m playing against. I try to prove I’m the best player on the court every time I step out there.”

Whether it’s referring to himself as a “bucket” while jawing with an opposing player at the free-throw line, picking up a technical foul for some trash-talk in his NBA first summer league game or wearing a flashy suit on draft night, Herro’s trademark confidence is already well-known.

“I like to say it comes from me,” Chris said. “I taught him at a young age, there’s a difference between being arrogant and being cocky. To play at a high level in basketball, you have to have some type of arrogance. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be successful on the basketball floor. That’s what people don’t understand, there’s a difference. If you can back it up and play, that’s confidence.”

But there’s also another trait the 19-year-old Herro learned from his father, who owns a garbage company and snow plowing service in Wisconsin, and that’s a “relentless” work ethic.

Chris was a talented basketball player, drawing scholarship offers from schools like Florida State and Saint Louis before a torn ACL in his senior year of high school ended his dreams of playing on the college level. That unfortunate experience left a mark on Chris, and that mark was passed down to Tyler.

“Don’t ever disrespect the game. When you play the game, you play it like it’s going to be the last time you play it,” Chris, 46, said of what he learned from the injury. “When you’re on the floor, you believe that you’re the best player on the floor and don’t let anybody tell you different. If you’re not the best player on the floor, then you get your ass back in the gym and you work until you are the best player on the floor.”

Herro’s work ethic has become the stuff of legend everywhere he has been, from Whitnall High School in suburban Milwaukee to Kentucky and now the Heat. His UK teammates came up with the nickname of “Boy Wonder” for him, and it wasn’t just because of his pretty jump shot.

Herro woke up at 5 a.m. most days for workouts while in high school, and then followed up the afternoon team practice with a late-night workout at the local fitness club. When Herro’s high school coach Travis Riesop told him he could open the gym for him as early as 6 a.m. on school days, Herro declined because it wasn’t early enough.

“Here I am in my head thinking, ‘So is it because you don’t want to get up that early?’” Riesop remembers. “So I kind of just picked on him a little bit. I’m like, ‘Oh, what. Is that too early for you?’ He’s like, ‘No, I don’t have enough time to get my workout in because I have to make sure I can shower and get ready for school.’ ”

Just days after the Heat drafted Herro with the 13th overall pick in June, he left his family in Miami and flew out to Milwaukee the day after his introductory news conference to get his normal workouts in before the start of summer league.

On the morning Herro left for Sacramento to start summer work with the Heat, he asked Riesop to open the Whitnall High gym for him at 5:45 a.m for a workout before his flight to the other side of the country.

And earlier this month, Herro went through an early morning workout with new Heat teammate Jimmy Butler.

“It’s just who I am,” said Herro, who has two younger brothers — 15-year-old Austin Herro and 12-year-old Myles Herro. “I like being in the gym and getting better every day. Obviously, there’s a dream of being one of the best players to ever play. So just being able to continue to get better every single day and working hard.”

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Tyler Herro’s family, mother Jennifer and brothers Myles, 12, and Austin, 15, were on hand at the player's introductory press conference Miami on June 21. CHARLES TRAINOR ctrainor@miamiherald.com

This attitude passed on by his father helped Herro at Kentucky.

Riesop remembers a conversation with UK Coach John Calipari during the college recruiting process, when Calipari asked him: “What do you think would be Tyler’s biggest weakness?”

Riesop’s answer was what most would have been at that time: defense. But after early struggles, Herro adjusted and became one of Kentucky’s better defensive players by the end of the season.

“I think that’s a credit to him because he knows like, ‘I’ve got to be able to defend. I’ve got to make sure my first step is really good so I can stay in the games,’” Riesop said. “I think stuff like that were things he really actually tried to work on.

“One of the things I know that really bothers him is if he doesn’t succeed at it, he’s going to do it until he does. And if the coach says, ‘Nah, we’re done today.’ He’s like, ‘OK, so what time can we get back in tomorrow to work on this?’ He’s just relentless in trying to make sure that he’s doing everything he can to be the best player that he is.”

Kentucky assistant coach Joel Justus can confirm that.

“He’s a guy that is extremely competitive and always was, if not the first guy there at practice, he was one of the first two or three,” Justus said of coaching Herro at Kentucky. “… I think the kid is as competitive as anybody in that league. He’s a guy who will fight and will compete.”

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A family photo of Heat rookie Tyler Herro, his father Chris Herro, his mother Jennifer Herro, and his brothers Austin Herro and Myles Herro. Courtesy of the Herro family

Again, that trait comes from his father. Chris began coaching Tyler in YMCA leagues when he was in first grade all the way until he entered high school.

“I used to ride the [expletive] out of him,” Chris said. “He would show up like most kids, not ready to play and I would ride him and sit him down and make him understand. … My wife [Herro’s mom, Jennifer] used to yell at me and text me, ‘Leave him alone.’ But my wife will tell you today, she’s thankful the way I handled him through the years.”

Herro remembers the message his father hammered in at an early age as, “Good isn’t good enough.”

Most of Herro’s friends can attest to Chris’ honest approach.

“I know the mental toughness comes from his dad. His dad pushes him like no other,” Herro’s close friend Baba Fajembola said. “… His dad is probably the most honest person I’ve been around. He forces you to have tough skin. If you don’t have tough skin, you probably won’t last around his dad. His dad is an honest soul; his dad is a caring soul.

“I think that’s what makes Tyler as tough as he is. If he can sit in the house and deal with his dad’s criticism every day, because you’re not just going to win his dad over. … There have been times his dad felt like he could push and do more, and that brings more out of Tyler. Ty is pretty much a reflection of his dad.”

Herro even pointed to his father as the “biggest influence” in his life for the bio on his Kentucky player profile page.

Riesop credits Chris with Herro’s somewhat unique ability, as a high-profile high school player, to take positive and negative feedback in stride.

“It was tough,” Herro said of his father’s tough-love approach. “But that’s just what I needed to hear. There are a bunch of people telling me things that I want to hear, so he tells me the things that I probably don’t want to hear. That’s just him being a good dad.”

How does Herro’s inner circle know his mental toughness is built to endure the ups and downs of the NBA?

Herro managed to average 32.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists as a high school senior. He produced that stat line while fans in his hometown were so disappointed when he decommitted from Wisconsin to attend Kentucky that his family was met with rubber snakes at most of his games to point out the perceived betrayal, and Herro heard comments like, “We hope you get hit by a car.”

“It just motivated me to go out every night and play my best,” said Herro, who added that the toughest part of that experience was his friends and family catching some of the hate. “So, really, it prepared me for my season at Kentucky, just playing in big atmospheres and big games every night.”

Herro’s decision to attend Kentucky worked out, with the program known for playing talented freshmen big minutes. He took advantage, averaging 14 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 37 games in his lone college season.

“If you really put stuff in perspective, I give him a ton of credit because it took a lot for him to be a hometown hero, the next Wisconsin big thing and decommit from there and knowing in his heart that it wasn’t where he wanted to be,” Chris said. “This story could be totally different if he didn’t have the courage to tell his mom and his dad.”

Herro’s story is about to begin in Miami, and those who know him best are quick to point out there’s more to the teenager than bold outfits and a smooth shot. There’s a confidence that has been earned through a tireless work ethic and a desire to continuously improve.

“His dad was a player when he was younger, and he still walks around with that swagger,” Riesop said. “I think that’s the kind of chip you see when Tyler steps on the floor. I think one of the things I admired the most about him was how mentally focused and locked in he was. … I think that, obviously, that just doesn’t come from nowhere. I think that his dad really put that in him because he was that same type of player. Obviously, Tyler had that chip and real dog mentality that everyone talks about. I think he gets it from there.”

And as Herro prepares for his rookie season, it has allowed Chris to reflect on his son’s journey to the NBA.

“It’s insane,” Chris said about Tyler’s work ethic. “I’m not telling you this to brag about Tyler because I don’t do that about my sons. But it’s insane. It’s just the truth. It’s crazy. In Miami, he’s going to bring something. I know the culture in Miami is to work hard and they develop people. He’s going to bring another element to that because that’s what he does.”

Whether Herro is even able to crack the Heat’s rotation as a rookie remains to be seen. But those words and that compliment from Chris carry weight.

“There’s one thing I don’t do and that’s sugarcoat stuff and I don’t kiss Tyler’s ass,” Chris said. “I very seldom say, ‘You did a really good job.’ I’ll say, ‘Good game. Enjoy it for a couple minutes and move on to the next.’”

Then Chris paused before beginning the next sentence.

“But I don’t tell him enough,” he said, “I’m proud of him.”

Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.
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