Ulis might be perfect mentor for young UK guards

Published 3:51 pm Wednesday, November 22, 2023

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He was one of the most popular players to play for coach John Calipari at Kentucky and Tyler Ulis expected Big Blue fans to embrace him when he came back to UK as a graduate assistant coach midway through last season.

“The fans have always loved me and showed me love throughout my surgery (from a car crash about 1 1/2 years ago) and my pro career. I figured they would show me a lot of love, and that’s why I love it here so much,” said Ulis.

He led the 2014-15 team that started the year 38-0 in assists and was a freshman all-Southeastern Conference selection. The following year, he was a consensus first-team all-American as well as the SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.

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Ulis went on to play in 133 NBA games after leaving UK after his sophomore season and averaged 7.5 points, 4.0 assists, 1.7 rebounds and 21 minutes per game.

Now he’s ready to help a team featuring an abundance of young guards hopefully make a Final Four run.

“The players only know the last three years, but when they go back and research him, and we utilize him a lot in our highlight clips, they can see the impact that he had on teams,” Kentucky assistant coach Orlando Antigua said. “Cal raves about him and how he empowered (the team) and that allowed him to run the team because of his leadership, knowledge, unselfishness and caring for his teammates.”

Kentucky assistant coach Chin Coleman said Ulis is able to “drop a bunch of nuggets” on the young guards about how they played or what they should do in certain situations.

“He’s a huge addition to our staff in terms of his knowledge of the game,” Coleman said. “He’s a voice of influence because he played for coach Cal. He was in the space that this whole team is in, so he can speak to those guys in terms of explaining the Cal-isms, as I like to call them. He can explain the Cal-isms in terms of, ‘This is what he really means.’ He’s been a plus for us, a big plus.”

Ulis joined the UK coaching staff in January but was still on crutches from injuries in the automobile accident. This season he says he can move around me and be more “hands on” with players.

“I will be with the team the entire year and can do a lot more since I am not on crutches,” Ulis said. “I am still dealing with the injuries but I am just happy to be living in the present and able to move around more to show guys things on the court and help as much as I can.”

Ulis could be the perfect mentor for freshmen guards DJ Wagner, Rob Dillingham, Reed Sheppard and Justin Edwards.

“A lot of guys we have are similar to a few teams I have played on and guys I have played with. I think I can help them a lot. We are a heavy point guard and heavy guard team,” Ulis said. “I have played for Cal and ran his offense, so I am trying to help them as much as I can.

“They are all smart. They can all pass, shoot, dribble. Really, the entire team is that way. We have a bunch of ball players, guys that can get in the lane and make good decisions. Once they learn this offense, it is going to be a lot of fun this season.”

Antigua said the learning process, especially for the new players, will be easier with Ulis on the staff.

“He is a great liaison between the staff and the players because he has experienced what they are going through. He can talk about the expectations, the demands, the things as a staff we are trying to communicate and may not be registering with the players but he can deliver it in a different way to current players,” Antigua said.

“They still see him as relatively close in age and that gives him an advantage that will help us.”