By LARRY VAUGHT
For trainer Eric Nawracaj, working with future Kentucky basketball player Tyler Ulis has been easy because of the “drive and determination” the Chicago point guard has.
“I am pushing him to the next level because that is what it will take to be successful player at Kentucky. I work hard with him. He has a huge passion for basketball. Kentucky is going to love this kid when he comes down there and he will be a bonafide superstar,” said Nawracaj.
The two worked out daily during the summer when Ulis was not traveling to games and then worked out often during the basketball season.
“I got a little banged up during the summer and didn’t work out then. But other than that, we worked out every day. I would go out every night and lift weights, shoot and get lot of shots up. With the season, we couldn’t get in as often with my schedule, so we would work out most every morning at 5 before school. We were trying to get work in so I could last through the season before we backed off some near the end,” Ulis said.
“It’s not always fun. If I am late or something one day, he will be upset with me and make me doing extra. If I didn’t do something right in the game, he would punish me. But I love working out with him. He is here for me and trying to do his best for me. He is another guy who doesn’t pat me on the back. I had a 30 point, eight-assist game and he told me if I would have played a little better I could have won that game single-handily. He doesn’t pat me on the back. He tells me what I need to work on and gets me right.”
The 5-9 Ulis reached a life-long dream when he made the McDonald’s All-American Game that will be played Wednesday at the United Center in Chicago. That also validated that size is not an issue with Ulis.
“Ever since me and Tyler started working out about two years ago, we have tried to fight that size thing,” his trainer said. “I just tell him to keep working and keep being disciplined with what we are doing because you have weaknesses and it’s my job to change those weaknesses. That’s not a negative with him, but means to get to that next level you need to understand you have weaknesses.
“We are working on his body, working on his range to build it back. We have to make sure his vertical increases so he can go ahead and drive and attack that basket with a purpose and finish up in the air. So all that stuff is really coming together nicely. I couldn’t be more proud of Tyler. He has worked his tail off.”
Nawracaj says he is “mentally tough” and a “fierce competitor.”
“He hates to lose. Kentucky is getting one heck of a recruit and he’s going to be a dynamite player in the future,” Nawracaj said. “I tell people this all the time … I have seen, coached and trained a lot of players and he has great speed, is great at changing direction, has great vision and unbelievable passing skills. He is one of the most consistent shooters I have been with at such a young age.
“I give credit to James (Ulis’ father) and his family for getting him involved in shooting early. That’s a wonderful thing to teach kids. There are a lot of elite and high school kids that just don’t know and we have to work on their form and technique. Sometimes it is too late. He established himself early and now it is just a matter of how we make him super elite where he can live his dreams and get paid one day (for playing basketball).”
Nawracaj admits he has pushed Ulis probably harder than the Chicago guard ever expected.
“He is one of the most humble human beings around and the relationship we have established is great. I have told him I am not there to be your friend or pat you on the back. You have fans to do that,” the trainer said. “You come to a guy like me that can help you do things different and try to expand your game to make you more knowledgeable. There are always things you can learn, pick up about your own game.
“I was frustrated with fact we worked so hard and played on a college court and he explained his legs were gone (during the game). I explained we worked hard and got you in shape and then that six week period between that game and when we stopped working out, he lost his focus of really staying in shape. You get in basketball shape and basketball shape is not good enough any more if you want to be an elite player. That’s what we talked about. He knows what’s out there for him with the elite skills he has if he just keeps working like he has.”