Guest post: “I didn’t expect to love Tyler Ulis the way I do.”

Tyler Ulis (Vicky Graff)

Tyler Ulis (Vicky Graff)

Vaught’s note: Brandy Osborne is a lifelong member of the BBN, originally hailing from Oldham County and now settled in Jessamine County. While basketball is her obsession, she is learning to love football, slowly but surely. She is married to Ben, a not so basketball fanatical husband, who baked her “I’m sorry your team lost” brownies after the loss to Wisconsin in 2015. The brownies were good, the loss still hurts.

By BRANDY OSBORNE

Dr. Seuss said “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened,” and I often feel that should be the BBN mantra each year in April and May. We are blessed by such an abundance of talent and skill that we cannot and should not hope to keep it to ourselves for all four years of eligibility. Each year brings a new set of kids that steal your heart in some way, be it for their dazzling efforts on the court, their kindness off the court, or even for the goofy ways they remind you that they’re still just kids.

The blessing of being a UK fan is getting to watch these guys play, fight and win for each other and for Kentucky. The curse is saying goodbye to them when they take the opportunity to chase their dreams to the next level, most often before we want them to go. I’m proud of every one of the young men who have worn the Kentucky jersey, but each year there are one or two players that you just plain love; would hug their neckwould bake them cookies, how dare you speak ill of them- love. I have that love for Boogie, Jorts, Uncle Julius, Willie and Karl. But Tyler Ulis is one that captured my attention and my heart and has now become one of my All- Time Favorites. I didn’t expect to love Tyler Ulis the way I do, and maybe that’s part of it- he is always defying expectations.

I first remember hearing about Tyler after the championship game with UConn in 2014. Still smarting from that loss handed to us by the small, lighting fast Shabazz Napier, I remember thinking that Tyler might be exactly what we needed — fast, small and precise. Oh how true those words would be, which we came to see during the Louisville game in December, 2014.

I should explain that my group of friends always get together to watch the UK/UL game, because UK basketball + UL bashing — two great things that are great together. However, some of my friends are not as basketball rabid as the rest of us and they watch the game with only a vague sense of interest.

So then, when Tyler took an elbow to the face half of us jumped up screaming at the TV, the other half were confused by our reaction. Tyler, oblivious to his bleeding, kept right on going until they made him leave the court to get patched up. We were amazed by his passion and his will to be back in the game. I was in awe of his talent, sure, but also how much fight he had in him. You could see his frustration at having to sit down so they could clean his face up.

When he came back on the courtbruising, eye swollen, cut taped closeda friend who was only half watching the game remarked “Who is that little one eyed boy? He sure can play.” Like I said, not everyone is as passionate about the game as some of us but from that moment on, Tyler became a favorite of both the obsessive and casual fans in my friends. Among us, he is still lovingly called “the little one eyed boy” a testament to his fight, grit and that our friend, Belinda, doesn’t pay much mind to basketball.

There are so many games and plays that showcase who Tyler is, but his moment with Auburn’s Trayvon Reed is still a true highlight for me, maybe even more than the amazing lobs to Marcus Lee or the near half court threes. In that moment, when all 5’9” of Tyler was going to step to all 7’2” of Reed there was no hesitation, no fear, and no doubts because of his size. Tyler was not going to be pushed around by anyone. Thankfully the ref and Devin Booker stopped any real fight. Right then, I realized I just loved that boy.

Every game since he continues to remind me why. His skills are just amazing. His basketball IQ is off the charts. He is both a point god and a floor general. He is deadly serious while still wearing such an infectious smile. He has proven that he is everything you could hope for in a UK player: talented, smart, driven, passionate, a fighter, a closer, a leader, a brother.

He is not a traditional point guard or even a traditional player based on his stature, but it doesn’t matter. He’s been told all his life that he’s too short and yet he has worked and fought every day to become what he is — not what others said he could or should be, what he knew he could be. His is a story of a bit of luck and a lot of perseverance. How do you not love that? Love him?

The history of UK basketball is filled with name after name of amazing players, with the last several years adding to that list exponentially. But there is a much smaller list, filled with the most beloved players in the history of our program. The reasons they are so loved changes from player to player. You can’t really predict who will end up on this list, but you must truly be a special player and person to make it into that pantheon  and I think Tyler Ulis has earned his place among them. I hope and pray for his bright future to be filled with as many years in the NBA as he desires, and then on our sidelines again as a coach. The South Carolina game certainly proved he’s got the skill for it.

Thank you Tyler. Thank you for coming to Kentucky, for playing with all of your heart and soul, for leading your band of brothers in amazing ways. Thank you for being the perfect ambassador for what Kentucky Basketball means, to the school, to the state and to the whole of the Big Blue Nation!!

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