Chicago point guard Ulis commits to Kentucky

broberts@herald-leader.comSeptember 13, 2013 

spt-1227-mcdipper.jpg

Tyler Ulis says he's hoping to play in the McDonald's All-American Game, which will be held in his hometown of Chicago.

JOHN J. KIM — Chicago Tribune

  • Visit our Next Cats recruiting page on Kentucky.com at www.ukrecruiting.bloginky.com for additional features on UK's newest commitment, including:

    ■ A Tyler Ulis player page that includes bio information, videos and rankings.

    ■ A Q & A with Ulis' high school coach, who talks more about how Ulis defends bigger point guards.

    ■ A closer look at the smallest UK basketball players in recent years.

It wasn't as easy this time around, but John Calipari has his point guard for the recruiting class of 2014.

As expected, Chicago-area prospect Tyler Ulis announced his commitment to the University of Kentucky on Friday night.

He chose the Cats over Michigan State and Iowa.

"Everything changed when Kentucky offered," Ulis told the Chicago Sun-Times. "That's just where my heart was."

Ulis — a 5-foot-9, 150-pound player — isn't the prototypical Calipari point guard.

He's not nearly as big as John Wall, Brandon Knight or Marquis Teague.

What Ulis lacks in size, he makes up for in grit.

Scout.com national analyst Evan Daniels spoke of Ulis' toughness as a reason for his near-five-star ranking.

"You look at him and you think, 'Man, he's a small guard,'" Daniels told the Herald-Leader. "But what he does and brings to the table ... is going to translate to the next level. He's a guy that you can trust running your basketball team."

Scout.com ranks Ulis as the No. 29 overall prospect in the Class of 2014. He's been rising up the recruiting charts after a stellar summer that included a 22-point, 17-assist performance against Tyus Jones, who was long considered the No. 1 point guard in the class.

Jones also has a scholarship offer from Kentucky, and Calipari was in Minnesota for an in-home visit with the five-star prospect Tuesday.

But UK has been viewed as a long shot in Jones' recruitment — many analysts say he'll pick Duke — and Ulis' commitment probably lessened the Cats' chances.

Calipari's prime point guard target in this class was Emmanuel Mudiay, the Dallas-area star who last month announced that he would stay close to home and play for Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown at Southern Methodist.

While waiting on Mudiay, UK passed on highly touted point guards JaQuan Lyle and Josh Perkins, who committed to other schools.

All of those players — Jones, Mudiay, Lyle and Perkins — are rated higher than Ulis.

Marian Catholic Coach Mike Taylor says his star player is nobody's consolation prize.

"First of all, he's highly competitive. He's very intelligent," Taylor said. "And forget his size. You're going to have to bring (someone) into the gym to show me who can handle the ball, who can pass, who can shoot, who can do those things better than him. He's gifted. If he was 6-4 with these skills, people would be talking in another world about him."

Ulis visited UK for the first time a week before Mudiay committed to SMU, and Calipari offered him a scholarship on the spot.

He returned for his official visit last weekend and had two private meetings with Calipari during that trip.

James Ulis — the player's father — said the UK coach complimented his son's court leadership skills.

"Calipari likes that he's a point guard who can score," he said. "But he really likes that he's unselfish. Calipari talks about that a lot. He dictates how the game is being played. He really controls the tempo and pace of the game, which (Calipari) likes."

Ulis' size will make him a unique Kentucky Wildcat.

He's the first sub-6-footer recruited to be a scholarship player at UK since Brandon Stockton was here nearly 10 years ago. Stockton was the first since Travis Ford in the early 1990s.

Since 1970, there have been only five UK scholarship players under 6 feet — Dicky Beal, Leroy Byrd and Ronnie Lyons were the others.

Ulis' stature raises the question of how he'll play against bigger point guards.

Taylor said Ulis was 5-4 when he started him as a freshman, and he's guarded players as tall as 6-7 during his high school career.

"It's amazing to watch him. He is so quick," Taylor said. "Those bigger kids — he gets under them — and they can't do anything with him. Because he's so low and so quick laterally. That's where those tall guards have a problem.

"And I've said this to coaches for the past two years: I haven't seen too many college teams post up guards anyways. I don't see it in the NBA. With the shot clock and with defenses being as sophisticated as they are, there's not many teams running an offense predicated on posting up their point guard."

Barring the unexpected — the return of Andrew Harrison, for instance — Ulis is considered UK's most likely candidate to start at point guard for the 2014-15 season.

He's not as highly touted as Wall or Teague or Harrison, but he'll shoulder the same expectations.

"Kentucky fans want to win and they want to win now. There's not much room for error," James Ulis said this week. "And I think Tyler welcomes that."

Taylor said Ulis has a "chip on his shoulder" about his size and the expectations of those who look at him and see nothing more than a little guy on a basketball court.

Those who have watched him grow as a player have little doubt he can step in and lead a team with Final Four aspirations.

"I do think he's a caliber point guard that can start (as a freshman) and do well," Daniels said. "He's not going to come in and be John Wall. He's not going to have that type of impact. But he's a guy who you can trust running your team. To get guys in the right positions, make smart plays with the ball, and make toughness plays."

And for those who haven't seen him?

"They're going to be in for a very pleasant surprise," Taylor said.


Visit our Next Cats recruiting page on Kentucky.com at www.ukrecruiting.bloginky.com for additional features on UK's newest commitment, including:

■ A Tyler Ulis player page that includes bio information, videos and rankings.

■ A Q & A with Ulis' high school coach, who talks more about how Ulis defends bigger point guards.

■ A closer look at the smallest UK basketball players in recent years.

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216Twitter: @NextCatsBlog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com

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