For Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis’ play in a NBA summer league was an example of what used to be called a summer re-run. Booker had seen it before.
“I’ve been good friends with him for a long time,” Booker said Saturday. “So I know how his career is planned out. He always has been the underdog. So I think it’s nothing new to him. And he’s going to prove people wrong again.”
Of course, skeptics said Ulis was too small to play in the NBA. This echoed the belief that at 5-foot-9 and about 150 pounds, Ulis was too small for high school and then Kentucky.
Despite being an All-American player for UK last season and the Southeastern Conference’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, Ulis was not even a first-round draft pick. Phoenix took him with the fourth pick of the second round.
“The biggest steal in the draft,” Booker called Ulis. “That’s not just my opinion. He’s proven it in the summer league.”
Ulis averaged 14.5 points, 6.3 assists and 32.2 minutes in summer play. That included a game-winning three-pointer that went viral and led Ulis to exalt in, uh, a colorful way. Or perhaps to be more precise, an off-color way.
“You can’t say that on camera,” Booker said of how Ulis reacted to his game-winner. “Something that’s bleeped out.”
With gentle prodding from reporters, Booker approximated Ulis’ words as “Let’s go. I’m built for this.’
“You can say that,” Booker said, “saying he’s built for this.”
When asked what Ulis’ play this summer proved, Booker said, “That his size doesn’t matter.”
Booker questioned how NBA teams judge draft prospects.
“I don’t understand how the draft always works,” he said. “You take all these European guys. They play three minutes a game overseas. But right here, you see Tyler play on the biggest stage in college basketball, and performing.”
Booker suggested that a fear of being second-guessed drives NBA teams to discount college performance.
“Every NBA team wants to find that steal overseas that nobody knows about,” he said. “You know, like the (Kristaps) Porzingis thing. They don’t want to miss out on one of those.”
Of Ulis’ play for UK, Booker said, “If you turned on a TV and watched him play last season, you see that he belonged in the NBA. He has a bright future ahead of him. I’m proud to be his teammate again.”