The University of Kentucky is getting ready to have another turnover again. Out go all the potential lottery picks that did their one year at Kentucky and in comes the next crop of fabulous freshmen. Two freshmen that were expected to leave as soon as the year was over, big man Skal Labissiere and guard Jamal Murray, declared as many thought they would. Both are expected to go in the first round in the upcoming draft. They will both be missed, but it was a sophomore that won’t be back next year that will be missed the most. SEC Defensive Player of the Year and Conference Player of the Year Tyler Ulis declared that he was leaving for the NBA Draft on Wednesday. And with that, there will be another new point guard commanding the team next season. The diminutive point guard averaged 17.3 points, three rebounds and seven assists while leading the Wildcats to the postseason again. Unfortunately the season did not end the way he wanted it to, as they lost to Indiana in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. But the end of the season does not diminish the special year the Ulis had under Calipari at Kentucky. But with all that being said, what does Ulis offer at the next level?
Ulis definitely has skills or else he would not have declared for the NBA Draft. But most look at him and his size and think he has to just stay outside and shoot. That could not be further from the case. In his freshman year he did not display it much, but in his sophomore year, Ulis showed he had some mastery when finishing in the paint. Sure, he had his shot blocked a few times. That is going to happen when you go in the land of the trees. But what he did so well was cut down the angle of shot-blockers. Ulis played the pick-and-roll perfectly as he would attack it going downhill. And when he turned the corner, he would often times seek the shot-blockers and use his speed to get to them before they had time to jump and block his shot. Once in the air, Ulis then showed the many angles he could get shots off. From fading backwards to throwing the ball high off glass, Ulis would make it happen when he attacked the lane. Even though the landscape will be changing, Ulis is smart enough to figure out how to get his shots off in the lane when he attacks the paint in the NBA. And if he is not able to get deep in the paint, then Ulis can always pull up for his reliable midrange jumpshot.
Along with his ability to finish inside, Ulis also has great vision. He averaged seven assists per game, which was good enough for sixth in all of college basketball. But when looking closer at the numbers, he actually had the second-highest assist-to-turnover ratio in the country (3.81 assist-to-turnover ratio) behind Iowa State’s Monte Morris. Ulis protects the basketball and makes smart decisions when on the court. And like many good point guards, Ulis gets the basketball to his teammates in the right position. For example, many times Ulis would find Marcus Lee sprinting the court and reward his big man with a lob to the rim for a big dunk. Ulis would also get the basketball to players like Alex Poythress as well in good spots, putting him in great position to score and make things happen. At the next level, Ulis will be able to do some of the same things he has done at the college level. He has a general knack for getting the basketball to the right people at the right times.
Ulis is crafty and has a knack for making plays for himself and others, but above all he is a leader. With Calipari’s teams, there usually is a freshman that is a leader of the team. And the team usually follows his lead. But with this team, Ulis was the unquestioned leader amongst everyone. His leadership was apparent to Big Blue Nation, but it was apparent to the nation when the Wildcats went to South Carolina and played the Gamecocks. Only three minutes into the game, Calipari was ejected. Some wondered who was going to coach the team going forward in that game. The answer on the offensive end: Tyler Ullis. That was the first time that many had seen him take over that team and guide them (although he did so all season long). The Wildcats would end up blowing out the Gamecocks that game and Ulis was the engine behind it. After Ulis declared for the draft, Calipari said on Twitter that “Tyler coached the team just as much as I did” and also had this sentiment to say on Ulis: “ I’ve coached a lot of great leaders and great point guards in all my years of coaching. Tyler Ulis is the best floor general that I’ve ever coached.” Being that Calipari has coached plenty of great college point guards like Derrick Rose and John Wall, that statement alone speaks volumes about the affection he feels for Tyler. And on the next level, Tyler can certainly assert himself as the leader of a team. He has the heart, the ability and he has the fire to light into his teammates to get them in line.
Tyler will sorely be missed at Kentucky. When he was signed by Kentucky, plenty thought he would be there all four years. But Ulis far and above exceeded any expectations that some had for him and became one of the best players in the country. With his size, he will face some challenges. And Ulis will also have to work on his range as a shooter. But the heart, intelligence and his overall game cannot be denied. It will be great seeing this tenacious smaller guard play on the next level. Some team will be lucky to get him.