He’s not a physical marvel. He’s not a fitness freak. His high school coach says “his diet isn’t the best in the world.”
Yet, Kentucky point guard Tyler Ulis is redefining stamina. Going into the NCAA Tournament, he’s averaging 36.9 minutes, which is more than any UK player in at least 35 years. And given the 40-minute limit on games, it will be difficult for any future Wildcat to play more and sit less than Ulis.
While college basketball may marvel at Ulis’ endurance, Mike Taylor considers it business as usual.
“He can just play and play and play and play,” said Taylor, who coached Ulis in high school. “But he did that for four years (in high school). When Tyler was a freshman, I didn’t take him off the floor.”
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Nor did Ulis rest much as a sophomore, junior and senior.
“He just knows when to catch his breath and how to catch his breath,” Taylor said. “It’s not surprising to me. I didn’t want him off the floor.”
He just knows when to catch his breath and how to catch his breath. It’s not surprising to me. I didn’t want him off the floor.
Mike Taylor, Tyler Ulis’ high school coach
Neither does Kentucky, at least not much. Which suggests that necessity has something to do with Ulis’ abundant playing time this season. UK needs Ulis on the court to score, pass, think, defend, inspire, cajole and lead.
Or as Texas A&M forward Jalen Jones said Sunday, “Without him, they wouldn’t have many wins.”
UK Coach John Calipari says that he has had other players who seem tireless. On his radio show this week, Calipari mentioned Derrick Rose and two former Kentucky players: Brandon Knight (2010-11) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2011-12).
Rose averaged 29.2 minutes for Calipari’s Memphis team of 2007-08. Knight averaged 35.9 minutes and Kidd-Gilchrist 31.1.
“Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could have played every minute,” Calipari said.
During the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Ulis scoffed at the notion of being tired. After playing almost the entire game against Georgia on Saturday, Ulis seemed taken aback when a reporter asked if 39 minutes was taxing.
“For me?” he said. “Oh, no, I’m fine.”
Ulis then mentioned how the UK players had little to do while at the team hotel between games. Sit around. Eat. Get treatment. “Try to get a massage.” Just lay around.
“That’s enough rest for me,” he said.
Ulis played all 45 minutes in Kentucky’s overtime victory over Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament championship game. He did the same in UK’s overtime games at Kansas and at A&M.
In all, Ulis has played 39 or more minutes in 13 games this season.
“I’ve yet to see him tired very much,” teammate Marcus Lee said after the SEC Tournament title game. “I don’t understand. I’ve asked him how to keep going so I can figure it out.
“I love we have a point guard who can always keep going.”
To ask the source of Ulis’ stamina is to get a variety of responses.
“Beats me,” Taylor said.
He doesn’t eat well at all. Give me a pizza, and I’ll sit here and eat a pizza.
The high school coach ruled out exemplary eating habits.
“He doesn’t eat well at all,” he said of Ulis. “‘Give me a pizza, and I’ll sit here and eat a pizza.’
“He’s probably got a low heart rate.”
Ulis’ father recalled his son being an award-winning runner as a child. James Ulis said his son won races at AAU national meets: three times at 800 meters (at ages 9, 10 and 11) and twice at 1,500 meters.
When Ulis did not win either the 800- or 1,500-meter races as a 12-year-old, he gave up track, his father said.
James Ulis suggested that his son’s lack of size (UK lists him at 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds) makes endurance a vital part of his game.
“His heart is big, man,” the elder Ulis said. “If you’re the smallest, you’ve got to have more stamina, more quickness, be smarter. Running. Defending. Passing. Shooting. A lot of that has to be your will to win, and his will not to give up.
“He’s thinking, ‘I’m 5-9. But I’m going to play hard the whole game.’”
Of course, endurance has to be about willpower. Surely he feels fatigue, but Ulis refuses to give in to it.
Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy hit on this thought when asked at the SEC Tournament about Ulis playing on and on and on.
“We all could say, ‘Let’s talk to Kentucky and see what they’re doing in their conditioning program,’” Kennedy said. “I don’t think that has anything to do with it. I think it’s intestinal fortitude. I think the kid is a special player.”
Kentucky vs. Stony Brook
What: NCAA Tournament first-round game
Where: Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa
When: About 9:40 p.m.