Is Tyler Ulis the next Buckner, Thomas, Puckett?

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Is Tyler Ulis the next Buckner, Thomas, Puckett?

Today's hip hopcell phone generation doesn't know history. Tylis Ulis is no exception. But whether he knows it or not, Marian Catholic's 5-foot-8 junior point guard is rapidly writing his own chapter in the history of high school basketball in Illinois.

Until a few days ago, Ulis didn't know who Sam Puckett and Quinn Buckner were. And he was aware of Isiah Thomas only because the Hall of Famer from St. Joseph was his mother's favorite player. But Ulis is being compared to those Chicago area legends.

Ulis is being described as the best under 6-foot player in Illinois since Puckett, a 5-foot-9 guard who put Hales Franciscan on the map in 1967-70, scored more then 2,600 points, led his team to three National Catholic championships, shattered Austin Carr's tournament scoring record and was selected to Parade magazine's All-America team.

"I never saw Sam Puckett play but I have had plenty of people talk to me about him and I have had the pleasure of meeting him," said Marian Catholic coach Mike Taylor, who coached at Hales Franciscan from 1998 to 2002.

"What is special about Tyler is his overall game. There isn't anything he doesn't do well. If people talked about Tyler and Sam in the same breath as a high school player, that would be a tremendous compliment."

How good is Tyler Ulis?

"He is the best point guard in the state regardless of class," said veteran recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye.

"That is because he is the quintessential floor general. He is an outstanding ball-handler and passer who plays under control and lets the game come to him. To top everything off, he also is a consistent perimeter shooter with range that extends beyond the three-point arc.

"Most importantly, Ulis constantly dictates the pace of the game. He is just as effective in a half-court tempo as he is going baseline to baseline. He makes everyone around him better and is the only player in the state under 6-foot who can control a game from start to finish."

The Schmidt brothers compare Ulis to Jerome Randle (Hales FranciscanCalifornia) and Maurice Acker (HillcrestMarquette) at the same stage. "He is a high major college recruit all the way," they said.

Taylor takes the comparison game to another level. "I had a coach at our Thanksgiving tournament who said he'd trade four of his kids for Tyler--and his team played in Peoria. I said I wouldn't take that trade. I can't remember seeing a point guard like him in a long time," he said.

"When Isiah Thomas was in this conference, he wasn't a four-time all-conference player. Tyler could be--and he also could be a four-time all-tournament pick at the Big Dipper. To me, he is the best point guard in the state. I'm not sure there are many in the country as good as him.

"He has great leadership capability. He runs a team like Quinn Buckner and has the skill set of Isiah Thomas. If he was 6-foot-3, there would be no question about his ability. If he was playing at Simeon, he would be looked at all over the country with Jabari Parker."

Ulis, who is averaging 27 points, four assists and almost five rebounds per game, scored 26 last Friday as Marian Catholic (8-1) defeated Nazareth 61-48 in an East Suburban Catholic duel. The Spartans will be tested by unbeaten Lemont on Dec 22 at the Crete-Monee Shootout, then open against Rich Central in the 40th McDipper Tournament on Dec. 26 at Rich South.

"We have the makings of the best team I have had," said Taylor, in his 10th year at the Chicago Heights school. "Ulis is the best player I have ever been around as a coach. With him, every time you walk on the floor you have a chance to win. I'm excited about where he can take us."

What excites Taylor most of all is that Ulis has help this season. Last year, Marian Catholic was 15-13 and played four sophomores in the regional final. "I saw this coming," he said.

"What I have seen so far is last year we had Tyler and our kids stood around and watched him play. But this year they are steadily rising up to the level he is playing at. Our production has been better because instead of watching, they are playing it is making a big difference."

Taylor starts three guards--Ulis, 5-foot-7 junior Ki-Jana Crawford (8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4 steals, 2 assists) and 5-foot-10 junior Josh Cohn (10 ppg). In a recent game, he started four players under 5-foot-10. Other starters are 6-foot-2 junior John Oliver (2 ppg, 6 rpg) and 6-foot-5 senior Kevin Phillips (3 ppg, 6 rpg). Chris Austin, a 5-foot-6 sophomore, also is a valuable contributor.

"We rely on our quickness on defense. We have held teams to 36 percent shooting per game," Taylor said. "On offense, we use the dribble drive offense that Kentucky uses. We open up the floor and let our guards go. I did many of the same things at Hales Franciscan with similar personnel.

"Always, in the back of my mind, I recall when Schaumburg beat Eddy Curry and Thornwood in the 2001 state championship. I teach kids about that, how Schaumburg was able to do that with a lot of undersized but quick players."

And then there is Ulis, who understands that he must score at least 25 points per game if Marian Catholic is to be successful. Last year, he averaged 22. That's wasn't enough. This year, he wants to be sure not to leave anything on the floor.

"I know this year I have to score for us to win more games," he said. "Last year, we lost some games when I didn't take enough shots. We have been talking for the last three years how I have to be more aggressive on offense. I haven't put up a number (a goal for points per game) but I know I have to be more aggressive and shoot more for us to win."

But Ulis characterizes himself as a playmaker, not a scorer. Since his favorite player, Allen Iverson, retired, he has idolized 6-foot point guard Chris Paul. "I admire how he plays, how he gets his teammates involved and passes to them in the right spots and takes over the game when he is needed," he said.

"A point guard has to understand the game, control the game, play at different paces, set people up, run the team, play smart. I think that's my game, what I do best, what I will do at the next level. But right now I need to do what my team needs me to do to win. I look for my shot and don't give up open shots."

He admits he would love to wake up some day soon and be 6-foot-3 instead of 5-foot-8. But it probably won't happen. His father is 5-foot-11. Tyler would settle for 6 feet. But he doesn't believe his current size is a disadvantage--not if he is smarter and quicker and plays harder than everyone else on the floor.

"I am a pass-first point guard," he said, describing his style. "I look for my teammates first. When I am needed to score, I can score. I love to play in the pick-and-roll system. I play pretty good off-the-ball defense. I like to push the ball and get up the floor as fast as possible."

Born and raised in Lima, Ohio, he started playing basketball when he was three years old. His family moved to Matteson when he was a freshman. He chose Marian Catholic because his first priority was a good education. At the time, he wasn't aware that Marian Catholic's basketball team had won 20 or more games only twice since the school opened in 1961 and had never qualified for the state finals. It didn't matter then and it doesn't matter now.

"Winning is what excites me most of all," Ulis said. "What I like about this team is we play hard and good together, as a family. We like to be around each other. We will be tested at the McDipper and in the conference. Our edge is defense and quickness. If we play hard on defense, it will make up for our lack of size."

In the meantime, he will graciously accept compliments and gleefully acknowledge the comparisons to Puckett, Buckner and Thomas. And he will ease his way through the recruiting process. He has scholarship offers from DePaul, Iowa, Northern Illinois, Oregon State and Illinois-Chicago. He has interest from Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota.

"I'm just trying to play and let it (recruiting) play out," he said. "I'll see where it all goes. When I was younger, my dream school was North Carolina. My dad always liked them. I grew up watching them on TV. I liked (former North Carolina point guard) Ty Lawson."

Taylor said Ulis has just "scratched the surface" with the recruiting process. "He has a good idea of how to approach it, what is in store for me. He doesn't pay that much attention to it. He knows there is more to come. He studies the coaches and the schools and how he best fits in. He will make a decision after next summer. He fits into a program that opens up the floor and allows him to create in an uptempo style."

Ulis also has time to study history, specifically about Puckett, Buckner and Thomas.

"I never saw them play," he said. "I just know we are similar in size. I saw some NBA highlights. I know Isiah is a Hall of Famer. It feels good to hear that I am being compared to him, with all the success he had in high school, college and the NBA. I know I can make it if I work hard."

High School Lites Week 2 basketball capsules

High School Lites Week 2 basketball capsules

CSN Chicago will have cameras covering the biggest high school basketball games across Chicagoland for another basketball edition of High School Lites. Catch the show live at 11 p.m. Friday on CSN and streaming at CSNChicago.com

The show will feature numerous teams in the CSN Preps Power Rankings. The best game on Friday night could be No. 16 Benet traveling to No. 15 Notre Dame in a clash of unbeatens in the ESCC but there will be plenty of other highlights to check for.

The Red-West, North Suburban and Southland are all prominently featured on the show this week while High School Lites will also have highlights from the SouthWest Suburban.

This week's Viewers' Choice Game of the Week generated over 5,000 votes as Von Steuben will travel to Taft to represent the Red-North.

We'll also have a Getting to Know feature on Conant senior guard Jimmy Sotos.

Thursday's Game

Hyde Park at No. 7 Kenwood, 4:30 p.m. -- Kenwood will try to keep its momentum going as they host Hyde Park in a Red-Central battle. Kenwood (5-1, 1-0) is coming off of a Red-Central win over Dunbar earlier this week while Hyde Park (3-1, 1-0) defeated Lindblom for a conference victory as well. The Broncos are still unbeaten in Illinois as they're relying on senior big man Manny Patterson and his talented group of teammates. Hyde Park is trying to figure things out in head coach Jevon Mamon's first season as Andrew Anderson had a nice game against U-High at the Chicago Elite Classic.

Friday's Games

No. 11 North Lawndale at Westinghouse, 4:30 p.m. -- The Red-West is going to be a lot of fun to watch this season as this should be an interesting game. The Phoenix (5-1, 1-0) knocked off Marshall for a Red-West win on Wednesday while Westinghouse (3-3, 0-1) is coming off of a tough double-overtime loss to Farragut. Westinghouse is going to have to slow down Carlos Hines and Martrell Barnes but they can counter with a talented senior of their own in Coreyoun Rushin.  

Kankakee at Crete-Monee, 6:00 p.m. -- We also head to the Southland on Friday night as Kankakee (1-3, 0-1) travels to Crete-Monee (3-2, 1-0). The Warriors survived a high-scoring, double-overtime win over Rich East on Wednesday as they're led by senior and Toledo commit Dwayne Rose, the nephew of Derrick Rose. Kankakee is off to a sluggish start as they've lost some close games and they could use a conference road win here.

Rich East at No. 19 Bloom, 7:00 p.m. -- Keeping it in the Southland, Rich East (2-4, 0-1) will try to shake off a double-overtime loss this week as they travel to face No. 19 Bloom. Rich East has two one-point losses and the double-OT loss to Crete-Monee this year, so they could be better than the 2-4 record indicates. Bloom (4-1, 1-0) was impressive during Thanksgiving week at the Chicago Heights Classic as they look like one of the premier teams in the South Suburbs this year.

No. 24 Thornton at Lincoln-Way West, 7:00 p.m. -- These two teams battled in the SouthWest Suburban Red last season and both programs return some key pieces. Lincoln-Way West (2-4, 1-0) is led by senior Marco Pettinato as he's an All-Area candidate and big-time scorer. Thornton (3-2) will counter with a big scorer of its own with senior Alonzo Verge.

No. 16 Benet at No. 15 Notre Dame, 7:00 p.m. -- This could be the best matchup of Friday night as two unbeatens clash in the ESCC. Benet (5-0) is coming off of a runner-up finish in Class 4A as they bring back some talented players like Jack Nolan, Liam Lyman and Justin Enochs. The Redwings have looked very good early this season as they've piled up a lot of double-digit wins. Notre Dame (6-0) is also off to a hot start as they picked up an overtime win over Loyola and another victory over Bartlett last weekend. The Dons have a lot of size on the inside as Chris Heinichen, Jeameril Wilson and Sean Johnson are all 6-foot-5 or bigger.

No. 12 Stevenson at Mundelein, 7:00 p.m. -- Stevenson is off to a great start as they try to carry that into Mundelein in this North Suburban contest. The Patriots (6-0, 2-0) are led by Indiana commit and senior Justin Smith as he's one of the best players in the state this season. Mundelein (2-4, 0-1) dropped one to Zion-Benton earlier this week as they try to get back on track in the North Suburban race.

Lake Zurich at Zion Benton, 7:00 p.m. -- Two team with high expectations in the North Suburban face each other in this one. Zion-Benton (2-1, 1-1) dropped a conference game to leader Stevenson last weekend but recovered with a double-digit win over Mundelein during the week. Lake Zurich (4-1, 0-1) dropped its conference opener to Waukegan after a 4-0 start to the season.

Viewers' Choice Game of the Week

Von Steuben at Taft, 6:30 p.m. -- This week's poll was a tight one as over 5,000 people voted and this game barely beat Lane at Uplift. The Panthers (0-2, 0-1) are trying to pick up their first win of the season after losing to an out-of-state opponent and No. 9 Uplift. Senior Rafael Cruz put up monster numbers last season as he's the player to watch for Von Steuben. Taft opened its Red-North slate at home against Lincoln Park as they're facing two tough opponents right out of the gate at home. They'll try to capitalize on those early conference home games with a win here.

Recruiting News and Notes: Mitch Lewis' recruiting stock soaring

Recruiting News and Notes: Mitch Lewis' recruiting stock soaring

Mitch Lewis (TE), Naperville North

Naperville North senior three-star ranked tight end Mitch Lewis (6-foot-6, 215 pounds) has seen his overall recruiting stock soar over the past month, as he's now touting 10 verbal scholarship offers and has more interest growing by the day.

"It's been a pretty wild last week or two," Lewis said. "It just seems like a lot of schools decided to offer me. It all came out of nowhere to be honest and it feels pretty amazing."

Lewis has added several of his 10 offers over the past few weeks and ran down his list of offers.

"I have offers now from Hawaii, Wyoming, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, South Dakota, Missouri State, Southern Illinois, Illinois State and Northern Iowa," Lewis said. "Also Iowa, Penn State and Purdue have also been in touch weekly, and both Iowa and Penn State are coming to watch one of my basketball games this week. I have a feeling some of the Big Ten schools are getting closer to offering me."

Lewis, who made his first official visit to Wyoming back in November is planning to set more official visits in January.

Joshua Maize (DE), Deerfield

Deerfield senior three-star ranked defensive end Joshua Maize (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) has switched up his planned official visit schedule, and he will make his first official visit this weekend.

"I'm making my first official visit to UConn this weekend," Maize said. "I was suppose to go to Miami of Ohio last weekend but they wanted me to reschedule. I was suppose to go to Miami of Ohio last weekend but they wanted me to reschedule since I was the only recruit scheduled to visit."

So what is Maize looking for when he visits UConn?

"I'm just looking forward to seeing the campus and the surrounding area," Maize said. "I've never been out East before so I want to see what UConn has to offer. I'm also looking forward to getting to know the coaches and the guys on the team. UConn also is supposed to have great facilities and I'm excited to see the different facilities along with the overall environment at UConn."

Maize has also drawn late recruiting interest from a handful of schools.

"Syracuse has been showing a lot more interest," Maize said. "They have a few offers out to Juco kids so they are waiting to see what happens. Syracuse wants me to make an official visit in January. I'm also talking weekly with Toledo and Central Michigan. I'm sure I'll set more visits in January but for now my focus is on UConn this weekend."

[MORE: The 2016 Edgy Tim All-State Team]

Nick Marozas (OL), Brother Rice

Brother Rice junior offensive linemen Nick Marozas (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) added his first scholarship on Monday from Minnesota.

"Getting my first offer from Minnesota feels great," Marozas said. "It was a bit of a surprise. I talked to one of the coaches on Monday morning and then later in the day they called my coaches at school then they offered me a scholarship."

Marozas visited Minnesota earlier this fall and came away impressed with the Gophers.

"I visited Minnesota last month for the Homecoming game against Purdue," Marozas said. "I had a chance to talk to the coaches at Minnesota on that visit and that went well. I liked the campus, the facilities and the stadium. Minnesota is just a great program and school and it's pretty exciting to get my first offer from a great Big Ten program."

Marozas has drawn interest from Minnesota along with Syracuse, Illinois, Indiana, Northern Illinois and Navy. Marozas plans to make a mid January unofficial visit to Syracuse.

Alec Palczewski (OT), Prospect

Prospect senior offensive tackle Alec Palczewski (6-foot-6, 270 pounds) has seen his recruiting stock soar late this fall. Palczewski, who added his first offer from Illinois a few weeks ago, now has added offers from the Fighting Illini along with Vanderbilt and Syracuse. Minnesota, Iowa and Indiana have also started to take interest in Palczewski.