Ulis embraces challenge of competing against best at Kentucky

broberts@herald-leader.comSeptember 18, 2013 

Little Tyler Ulis clearly isn't afraid of the big stage.

Ulis — the 5-foot-9 point guard who committed to play for Kentucky last week — was repeatedly told of the spotlight that goes along with being a UK basketball player.

John Calipari told him about the 24,000 who pack Rupp Arena and expect the Wildcats to go to a Final Four every year.

The UK coach told Ulis of the fans who would be waiting outside the Wildcat Lodge for pictures and autographs.

"It doesn't really bother me much," Ulis told the Herald-Leader.

In fact, that's part of the reason he chose UK to begin with.

"It's Kentucky basketball," he said. "It's the top stage of college basketball.

"I'm excited to get started."

The biggest stage Ulis played on over the summer might have been his much-hyped matchup with Tyus Jones, the Minnesota native long considered to be the No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2014.

Ulis had 22 points and 17 assists in that game. John Calipari was there, and UK started recruiting the Chicago point guard a couple of weeks later.

Ulis came to Lexington a few days after that for an unofficial visit, picked up a scholarship offer on that trip and returned to UK for an official visit last week.

He talked about that visit Wednesday and said what stood out the most was the high level of energy that the Wildcats showed in workouts and pickup games.

"Just seeing the competition and them playing against each other in practice," Ulis said. "They were very good. ... (Calipari) was just telling me that if I came here I would have to work hard. He said there are always high expectations."

Those expectations — that "big stage" — is what drives Ulis. And he's not afraid of the competition he'll face when he gets there.

Calipari was up front with Ulis about the recruitment of Jones, who was the first prospect to get an in-home visit from the UK coach last week.

Calipari is happy to have Ulis, but he wants Jones too.

"He wants to have depth," Ulis said. "Like, last year, he had to keep a player out there (on the court) because he didn't have enough players on the roster."

If Jones picks Kentucky, it wouldn't affect Ulis.

Those around him say Ulis thinks he's every bit as good as Jones. Ulis said Wednesday he didn't really have any thoughts about Jones' recruitment.

"I'm not really worried about where he ends up going," he said.

Ulis' high school coach said last week that his player would welcome the challenge of competing against Jones for playing time.

His AAU coach told the Herald-Leader this summer that — while he thinks Jones and Emmanuel Mudiay are both great players — he thinks his guy is better.

"Tyler Ulis is the No. 1 point guard in the country, man," Terrence Wilburn said. "That's a point guard there."

Before he gets to Kentucky, there's another big stage Ulis would like to play on.

Later this season, 24 high school seniors will be named to the McDonald's All-American Game, which will be played in Ulis' hometown for the third consecutive year.

Ulis — ranked No. 29 in the class in the most recent Scout.com rankings — would seem to be a candidate for such an honor.

"That would be a big deal," he said. "A couple of years ago, I didn't think I was going to make it. I thought I had no chance.

"But now that I'm close, it would be great to play in it. Especially because it's in my hometown. All my fans and family would be there."

Ulis has attended the McDonald's festivities the past couple of years.

He said he was in the United Center last spring when a record six Kentucky commitments played in the game.

Ulis laughed when he was reminded that so many future UK players were in the arena — on that big stage — that night.

"I actually forgot they had that many All-Americans," he said. "But that's the good thing about Kentucky. They get the best players.

"And you get to play against the best players every day."

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

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