Tyler Ulis isn’t a typical John Calipari point guard, but he now has the UK coach’s attention.
Ulis — a 5-foot-8 prospect from Chicago — heard from Kentucky for the first time this week following the close of the July live recruiting period. Calipari and his assistants saw Ulis play several times over the summer with teammate Charles Matthews, a 2015 guard who already has a scholarship offer from Kentucky.
Meanstreets Coach Terrence Wilburn told the Herald-Leader on Friday that he asked Ulis last weekend if UK had ever contacted him. At the time, the answer was no. Now the Cats are showing interest in the 2014 recruit.
Wilburn acknowledged that Ulis is smaller than past Calipari point guards such as John Wall, Derrick Rose and Brandon Knight. But he thinks his player is good enough to follow them at Kentucky.
“You have to question his size, because he is small. But he’s one of the toughest little buggers I’ve ever seen,” Wilburn said. “The kid can flat out score against anybody. And he takes it personally when a 6-2, 6-3 kid tries to back him down. The kid’s a player. He fits in anywhere he goes.”
Ulis recently trimmed his list to seven schools: DePaul, Florida State, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue and Southern Cal. But UK is among several others that have inquired over the past few weeks.
He played particularly well at last month’s Nike Peach Jam, which included a matchup with Tyus Jones, considered by many analysts to be the No. 1 point guard in the country.
Jones’ team won that game, but Ulis had 22 points, 17 assists and just four turnovers. He was also solid on the defensive end.
“From the opening tip, he picked up Tyus Jones end line to end line the first five or six possessions and Tyus Jones started letting the other guard bring it up the court,” Wilburn said.
“I love Tyus Jones, but I don’t care what no one says, Tyler Ulis is the No. 1 point guard in the country, man. That’s a point guard there.”
Kentucky will probably need a new starting point guard after the upcoming season. Freshman Andrew Harrison is widely considered to be a one-and-done lottery pick at UK, and his departure would leave Dominique Hawkins as the only returning point guard going into 2014-15.
Calipari has already offered Jones and Emmanuel Mudiay. Josh Perkins is also on UK’s radar, but the Colorado native is scheduled to make his college announcement later this month and he still doesn’t have an offer from the Cats.
Ulis is considered a top-50 overall recruit by ESPN (38th), Scout.com (41st) and Rivals.com (49th). Wilburn called him an “ultimate team leader” and reiterated that he’s not afraid to match up with anyone at his position. In addition to his play against Jones, Wilburn pointed out that Ulis held his own last week against five-star point guard Isaiah Briscoe, who’s 6-4.
“He’s not backing down from anybody, size-wise, defensively,” Wilburn said. “The kid is just tough. He wants to win. He wants to compete. And if you want to compete with him — even if you’re 6-4 — you better be ready to compete.”
With the summer schedule wrapping up, Ulis will now have time to concentrate on a recruitment that is now being watched a lot more closely.
“This summer has been fantastic for him,” Wilburn said. “I wouldn’t want to be that kid at this point, because he’s going to have some decisions to make.”