By LARRY VAUGHT
Marian Catholic (Chicago) coach Mike Taylor thought everything about Tyler Ulis’ commitment ceremony to Kentucky Friday went well — including the school he picked over Michigan State and Iowa.
“I think he will work out great at Kentucky,” said Taylor Sunday. “Once he gets to campus, players are going to love to play with him. He is really creative.
“I am not sure he totally understands the great Kentucky basketball tradition. He doesn’t understand the complete history of Kentucky basketball, but the recent history is attractive to any kid. I think as the coaches lowered their eyes, they found a special player.”
The 5-9 Ulis is ranked No. 23 in the 2014 recruiting class by Sporting News. Scout.com has him No. 29. But Ulis showed his worth during the summer. He averaged 19.2 points and 6.8 assists at Nike’s EYBL Finals at the Peach Jam, including 22-point, 17-assist performance against top five prospect Tyus Jones, who countered with 24 points and seven assists.
Ulis always liked watching current NBA star Chris Paul play point guard and went to his camp last summer.
“He has started a relationship with him. He loves Chris,” Taylor said. “He came back and said if he had five more minutes playing one on one, he would have beat him. But you see a lot of the same things in their games. Never get in a hurry with the ball. Always in control of the ball. Kentucky fans are in for a treat when they see him.”
Ulis does not fit the size mold of one-and-done Calipari point guards. But there have been over 20 NBA players 5-9 or smaller and two — -3 Muggsy Bogues and 5-9 Nate Robinson were first-round draft picks. However, there has never been a 5-9 or smaller starting point guard on a national championship college team.
Taylor says not to worry.
“People will learn as they see him. His intelligence allows him to beat players to spots. Defensively, he knows where to be and how to beat people,” Taylor said. “There’s nothing wrong with cheating. Sometimes when you are short all along, you learn a lot of great ways to cheat on the basketball court, and they have served him well. He has played against bigger kids. He has played against big-name kids. He’s not vulnerable.
“I think he has impressed everyone who has seen him play. He challenges himself in every situation. A lot of people were just slow to get on him. I have been talking about him since he was a freshman. I knew how good he could be. It’s just funny how a lot of (recruiting) experts are afraid to take a risk because he’s 5-9.”
Taylor doesn’t think the spotlight at UK will overwhelm him, either.
“He stays in a nice circle of friends. He doesn’t see publicity,” Taylor said. “If he stays true to himself, he will be just fine and I think he will and will be good for his teammates. He has been a name player in Chicago. He’s used to a lot of eyes being on him.”
Those eyes include several other Chicago players that UK is also recruiting. Two of those players are 2014 centers Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander.
“He’s friends with them all and they all find ways to get together and play,” Taylor said. “If I was a kid, I would want to jump on board with him and play at Kentucky. Why wouldn’t you? And we are going to get him stronger and physically ready. But you open the gym door, and every day you’ll see a different play and pass from him. He can do what he needs to do.”
Ulis and Marian Catholic will be in western Kentucky Jan. 11 for the McCracken County Festival of Hoops.
“Tyler will get an early taste of fans in Kentucky and see how passionate they are, but it will also be a great introduction for fans to see him play,” Taylor said.