Nothing Left to Prove for Tyler Ulis
Tyler Ulis arrived at Kentucky as a 5’9 guard that many fans expected to be in Lexington for 4 years. After the most impressive statistical season for a point guard in Wildcat history Ulis is ready to make the leap to the NBA. There are still doubters who say Ulis is too small to play in the league but Tyler has heard that his entire life.
The path for Ulis to Kentucky was made by Emmanuel Mudiay who many recruiting experts predicted to sign with the Cats. When Mudiay made a surprise announcement that he was committing to SMU it left Cal without a point guard for the 2015 class. That is when Cal turned his attention to Ulis who at that point was being recruited heavily by Michigan State. UK fans were in dismay over missing out on Mudiay and some worried that Ulis was not big enough to play at Kentucky. When Ulis visited Lexington John Calipari reportedly told him “if you think you are going to be here for 4 years don’t come here” which was music to Ulis’ ears. He was looking for someone that believed in him as much as he believed in himself. At the SEC tournament I asked him when he knew that he could compete at the highest level and his response was “like 5”. In other words he was born with confidence in himself and the doubts of others only fueled his drive to succeed. Shortly after his visit to Kentucky Ulis committed to the Cats. With the return of Andrew Harrison it gave Ulis the chance to learn the point guard position under much less stress as a freshman which certainly benefited him when he was handed the reins this year.
This season Ulis broke John Wall’s single season assist record at UK with 246. He did that while turning the ball over just 69 times which is less than half as many turnovers (149) as John Wall had in his season at UK. Tyler also scored 606 points which ranks as the 23rd highest scoring season in UK history. He made 167 free throws and is tied for 9th on the single season list for the Cats. The numbers speak for themselves but as impressive as they are they do not do justice to the season Ulis had. He was so vital to the team that he played virtually every minute of every game without ever seeming to get tired. He and Jamal Murray were the sole focus of every defensive scheme against the Cats yet he could not be slowed down. He always seemed to play his very best against the highest competition. He played so well that he has compiled this list of honors that will continue to grow
- NCAA Consensus All-America First Team
- Associated Press All-America First Team
- Sporting News All-America First Team
- USBWA All-America Second Team
- NABC All-America Second Team
- Wooden Award All-America Team
- Sports Illustrated All-America First Team
- CBS Sports All-America First Team
- SEC Player of the Year (Coaches/AP)
- SEC Tournament MVP
- SEC Defensive Player of the Year (Coaches)
- All-SEC First Team (Coaches/AP)
- SEC All-Defensive Team (Coaches)
- USA Today All-America First Team
- CBS Sports SEC Player of the Year
- USBWA District IV Player of the Year
- USBWA All-District IV Team
- NABC District 21 First Team
- Naismith Trophy finalist
- John R. Wooden Award finalist
- USBWA Oscar Robertson finalist
- Bob Cousy finalist
Despite the list of awards and statistical dominance Ulis still has a strong contingent of doubters. Many are rival fans but even members of Big Blue Nation have said that he is too small to play in the NBA and that he needs to come back. Those that question his ability to defend at the NBA level because of his size need to rewind the tape of this season and find the times that his size was an issue against bigger guards. At no point this season can I remember bigger guards being able to take advantage of their size advantage against him. It was typically the opposite with Ulis using his speed and quickness to frustrate anyone he guarded no matter how big they were. He makes up for his smaller size by being nearly unshakable on defense which allows him to guard players so closely that they struggle to shoot over him. Sure there are even bigger guards in the league and he needs to get stronger but his defense even in the NBA will be a strength rather than a weakness for him.
He is a magician with the basketball in his hands and he sees the court as well as any player I have seen. This season Tyler was forced to take more shots than he would have preferred because it was what the team needed. Surround him with NBA players that can make jumpers all around the court and he will be even more dangerous in the half-court. Combine that with the faster paced full-court game and he will be lethal running the fast break in the league. His three point percentage was much lower as a sophomore but that was due to taking many more contested shots than in his freshman season. With continued work on his shot he will be an above average shooter from beyond the arc and will also score a lot of points from the free throw line in the NBA.
Ulis is projected as a first round pick by almost every draft analyst at this point. The reality is that there is nothing that he can do to improve his stock by returning to UK. He can not have any more dominant of a season than what he had. The other thing is that he is not going to grow any taller than what he is which limits his stock no matter what he does in college. The best scenario for him may be to be drafted in the latter part of the first round which would likely put him on a playoff team. That would give him a chance to earn a back up point guard spot on a good team. Perhaps he will never be a star point guard but it seems like a lock that he will at worst have a lengthy career as a very good back up in the NBA. Ulis has an intangible that can not be measured and that is his heart. It drives him to push past the ceiling that others try to limit him with. There will be a lot of guys drafted ahead of Tyler that have much shorter NBA careers because while their bodies may fit the league better their hearts won’t measure up to his. That is why my money is on Tyler Ulis to be a success for years to come. Good luck Tyler, the BBN is behind you.