UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball notebook: Ulis, Booker bonded long before joining forces at UK

Kentucky Wildcats guard Devin Booker (1) and Kentucky Wildcats guard Tyler Ulis (3) front, had their photo taken during the UK men's basketball team photo day held in the Joe Craft Center in Lexington, Ky., Thursday September 04, 2014. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats guard Devin Booker (1) and Kentucky Wildcats guard Tyler Ulis (3) front, had their photo taken during the UK men's basketball team photo day held in the Joe Craft Center in Lexington, Ky., Thursday September 04, 2014. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

In trying to get heralded players to mesh into effective units, Kentucky Coach John Calipari has had a head start the last two years with twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison. As Aaron said a year ago, "We're as close as two humans can be."

This season Kentucky has another leg up in the team-bonding process with freshmen Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker. They've been friends and summer teammates since middle school. They were roommates at the NBA Top 100 Camp, the McDonald's All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic.

To ask if they share a room in UK's Wildcat Coal Lodge brings a predictable answer.

"Oh yeah, we room together here," Ulis said earlier this semester. "So we've been together a lot."

Then Ulis cracked wise. "I'm starting to get tired of him," he said.

He was kidding.

Ulis and Booker blend perfectly as players: Ulis as the point guard looking to set up scoring opportunities for teammates; Booker as the shooting guard looking to, well, shoot.

Their hand-in-glove on-court partnership first formed at one of the recruiting camps, which attracted Ulis from Lima, Ohio, and Booker from Grand Rapids, Mich., and then Moss Point, Miss.

"We just played great together," Ulis said. "He did what he did: Shoot the ball and score. I fed him every time, and we clicked.

"Ever since then, we've been on the same team at a lot more camps. Barely lost. Won championships a couple times. We thought it was great to play together."

It might be overstating it to say Ulis and Booker considered themselves a two-for-one package deal, a recruiting concept much more often a topic of speculation than an eventual reality. But in the egocentric world of recruiting, each kept someone other than himself in mind during the wining and dining.

When asked if they considered themselves a package deal, Booker said, "We talked about going to school together. I guess you could say that."

How often did they speak?

"Me and 'Book,' we talked just about every day," Ulis said. "Just talking. It wasn't about basketball all the time. Just seeing what's up. What are you doing? Just talking as friends."

Added Booker: "It wasn't always about basketball, but we did have those talks about what schools were looking at us. Then we just came together on the decision."

Georgetown

When asked about experimenting with a 30-second shot clock in exhibition games, UK Coach John Calipari said in a deadpan tone that he wouldn't mind a 24-second clock.

Even 24 seconds might be extravagant when Kentucky plays Georgetown College on Sunday (tonight). If both teams play their preferred styles, they'll shoot well before a 24-second shot clock would expire. Georgetown averaged 108.7 points in the three games already played this season.

"Obviously, we have a little bit different level of competition Sunday," Georgetown Coach Chris Briggs said before adding, "We always want to be a team to score off our offense and be known for our defense and get out and go in transition. Much like Kentucky.

"We expect to go in there and play hard and play the way we play, and hopefully maybe help them a little bit. They're definitely going to help us. Playing against guys who will be in the NBA soon will help us."

Gerard Coleman, a 6-foot-5 wing and a transfer from Gonzaga, is Georgetown's leading scorer (25.3 ppg). Point guard Noah Cottrill (24.7 ppg) and sturdy 6-8 Deondre McWhorter (21.7 ppg) also average more than 20 points. Corey Washburn, once a teammate of Derek Willis at Bullitt East High School, averages 13 points.

Georgetown, which has only nine players, hopes the NCAA helps its depth. On Wednesday, Georgetown appealed to the NCAA on behalf of Levan Shengelia, a 6-8 player from Russia. He's from Tbilisi, Georgia, which, coincidentally, was the hometown of five-star dictator Joseph Stalin. The NCAA Clearing House ruled Shengelia ineligible because it judged a class he took at Odessa (Texas) Junior College the equivalent of a class he later took at the University of Albany, thus the player was three hours short of gaining academic eligibility. As part of the appeal, Georgetown sent letters from the professors in each class and deans at each school saying the classes were not equivalent, Briggs said.

Of course, Georgetown has no idea when the NCAA will rule. "Could be Friday," Briggs said, "and it could be January."

Briggs refers to Shengelia as Rocky Balboa, meaning a strong and willing battler.

While a student at UK, Briggs was a manager for teams coached by Tubby Smith. Briggs, who grew up in Paducah, cited Smith and former Georgetown coach Happy Osborne as "big-time influences."

Judging coaches

With Kentucky intent on playing at a fast tempo this season and John Calipari sure to brace fans for the possibility of turnovers, especially in November and December, it seems a good time to ponder how coaches are perceived.

When he coached for Tennessee (2005-2011), Bruce Pearl barely seemed in control of the players. Yet, as chaotic as their play sometimes appeared, the Vols never failed to reach the NCAA Tournament and averaged 24.2 victories in his six seasons.

Good coach? Bad coach?

At SEC Media Days, Pearl spoke about how coaches get judged.

"It's easy to look at a guy whose teams are disciplined, who rarely turn it over and always take good shots," he said. "It's easy to say that's a great coach. But sometimes it's harder to appreciate a coach who gives the kids more freedom. And those kids make more mistakes and they make more bonehead plays and they take more bad shots. And you want to blame the coach. But they also are doing things that they would not be allowed to do (by a coach perceived to be a disciplinarian)."

To make his point, Pearl cited a former UT star, Chris Lofton, who led Mason County to the Kentucky state championship as a high school player.

"Chris Lofton was the best bad-ball shooter in college basketball," Pearl said. "I mean, he took a lot of bad shots. If you're not allowed that freedom, might we not have gotten to know what was and is the greatest shooter in the history of the SEC?"

Lofton, a Vol from 2005 through 2008, still holds the SEC records for career three-point shots (1,021) and baskets (431). That's three-point shooting with 42.2-percent accuracy.

When asked why he gave so much freedom to players, Pearl said, "Because players will appreciate that trust and freedom. As a result of you trusting them, they'll put their trust in you. They'll put their faith in you. They'll be loyal to you. And you might get them to play harder on the defensive end than they've ever played."

UK and UT

Pikeville lost at Kentucky on Sunday and at Tennessee on Monday. When asked to compare the two SEC teams, Pikeville Coach Kelly Wells noted that UK has the advantage of John Calipari in his sixth season as coach and a head start afforded by August exhibition games in the Bahamas. Meanwhile, Tennessee's first-year coach, Donnie Tyndall, is just getting started.

"It's night and day talent-wise," Wells said. "Kentucky's got 11 NBA players. I'm not sure (Tyndall) has any yet."

Pikeville played well at Kentucky and lost 116-68. Tennessee beat Pikeville 80-62.

"They're still searching," Wells said of the Vols. "He played 13 guys. I don't think any of them got into a good rhythm."

That said, Wells added of the Vols, "Their style is going to be difficult to play against. Their zone really gets you uncomfortable, and they have good length. I think they'll win some games they shouldn't win, but it will be because (Tyndall) just outcoached people."

K.K. is A-OK

Pikeville guard K.K. Simmons was a revelation. He scored 28 points at Kentucky last Sunday, then scored 30 at Tennessee the next night.

In those two exhibition games, Simmons made 20 of 37 shots (13 of 22 from three-point range).

Despite the late night/early morning bus ride between Lexington and Knoxville, Pikeville Coach Kelly Wells suggested Simmons played better in the second game within a 26-hour period. "I think he had a better floor game," Wells said of Simmons' performance at Tennessee.

So how good is Simmons? He is a 6-3 junior and a native of Atlanta who previously played for UNC Wilmington and Kent State. Could he play productively at a high Division I level?

"I think he has that potential," said Wells, who then shifted into coach mode. "There are things he has to develop on the other side. His defense and rebounding have to come along, too."

Simmons, a left-handed shooter, doesn't have to work on his shooting stroke. The rotation on his shot is lovely.

"It's pure," Wells said. "There's no question about that."

Oceanography?

Before the semester began, freshman Devin Booker said the class he looked forward to attending was ... oceanography?

"I lived on the Gulf Coast for, like, three years," he said of the time he lived with his father in Moss Point, Miss. "You see the ocean out there, but you really don't learn anything about it just driving by it. So I'm looking forward to that."

Crimes and punishment

The Wall Street Journal has been counting the number of fines and suspensions levied on NBA players since the 2010-11 season. In particular, the newspaper tallied the greatest variety of reasons for fines and suspensions. The results were published Friday.

Former UK big man DeMarcus Cousins had been punished for the second-largest variety of infractions: seven. He'd paid $366,198 in fines for such reasons as conduct detrimental to the team, confrontation with a broadcaster, criticizing referees, fighting with a teammate, punching, verbally abusing refs and what The Wall Street Journal called a "groin strike."

J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks had been the most creative rule breaker. His fines or suspensions covered eight different types of infractions, including flopping, inappropriate tweeting and untying opponents' shoes.

Kevin Garnett and Andrew Bynum each had been punished for "skipping media session."

Happy birthday

To Doron Lamb. He turned 23 on Thursday. ... To former UK Coach Billy Gillispie. He turned 55 on Friday. ... To Dwight Perry. He turns 27 Sunday (today).

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