Ulis plays tall for college coaches

Ulis plays tall for college coaches
March 21, 2013, 1:30 pm
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At the beginning of the 2012-13 high school basketball season, college coaches were in a predicament. They were sizing up Tyler Ulis, Marian Catholic's 5-foot-8, 145-pound junior point guard, trying to determine if he was big enough to play at the Division I level.

What a difference a season can make.

Now Ulis has a predicament. Having proven to one and all that he can play in the Big 10 or ACC or Big 12 or Pac-12, no matter how big he is, Ulis is in the envious position of sizing up the colleges, trying to determine which one fits him best of all. And he isn't talking about shoulder width or waist size.

Ulis averaged 22 points and five assists per game while leading Marian Catholic to a 29-4 record and the supersectional round of the Class 4A tournament. With all five starters returning next season, the Chicago Heights school figures to make another run at the state finals.

"Losing to Edwardsville (in the supersectional) was very disappointing," Ulis said. "We thought we'd go Downstate. But we didn't play our best game. They made a lot of shots and we didn't. They outplayed us. We learned that you have to come to play, especially in the state tournament."

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Ulis suffered through one of his most ineffective shooting games. He finished with 20 points but converted only seven of 20 shots and missed all six of his three-point attempts.

Afterward, he didn't feel much like watching the state finals on television, just a little bit of the Simeon/Stevenson final. Instead, he began to plan for his spring and summer training, the recruiting process and the 2013-14 season.

Ulis has scholarship offers from DePaul, Iowa, Oregon State and Colorado State. More are on the way. He is talking to Florida State, Minnesota, Purdue, Bradley and Dayton. And he'd love to get a call from North Carolina.

"North Carolina is my dream school," he said. "Growing up, I always liked them. I liked Raymond Felton (the point guard on the Tar Heels'  NCAA championship team). My mother and step-father rooted for them, too. I hope they will call me so I can consider them. But I think they already have a guard committed from my class."

No matter. He knows he'll find a suitable college environment. Toward that end, he is planning to make campus visits. He is working with a personal trainer to bulk up and improve his strength. And he is playing with Tai Streets' Mean Streets AAU team to sharpen his on-the-floor skills.

"It was a great year for me," he said. "But I don't think I did anything extra. I had the same numbers that I had in my sophomore year. But my teammates stepped up and we won more games and got to the supersectional. We won this year and that opened a lot of eyes. If you aren't winning, you won't get big-time looks."

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Ulis is too modest. The colleges were looking last year, too. But they were turned off by his lack of size. They gave him another look this year and were impressed. Now that he has proven to some that he can play in Division I, more will evaluate him this summer.

"I have proven I can play in Division I," he said. "I always thought I could do it. Now I know that (the college coaches) know it, too. That's a big step.

"I still want to better. And I want to work on my body. I want to add 10 or more pounds of muscle. I want to be sure I won't have trouble playing a physical game in the Big 10, that I can take hits and play defense against bigger guys."

Marian Catholic coach Mike Taylor said interest in picking up, that more and more major Division I programs are calling and arranging to stop by the school or planning to watch Ulis play in an AAU event.

"The biggest thing is they get into a gym and see how he directs a team, how he takes care of the ball, how he defends, steals and distributes. They see a true point guard when they come," Taylor said.

"I feel good about it. I'm happy that college coaches realize I'm not too small to play in Division I," Ulis said. "Now I just have to decide which Division I school I want to go to, which is what I wanted all along."

With another year to play, Ulis isn't in a hurry to make a decision. He said he plans to make campus visits after AAU competition and commit to a college late in the summer. Most important, he is motivated to take another step or two in the Class 4A tournament next season.

With the entire starting lineup -- Ulis, Ki-Jana Crawford, John Oliver, Josh Cohn and Terrone Parham -- returning next season, there are high expectations for 2013-14. Last season was the most successful in school history. But it wasn't enough.

"We want to make it Downstate. We were one game short this year," Ulis said. "We have great chemistry. We play hard. Our defense will be strong. We will be a year older, more mature. Next year, we will know what to expect when we get to the state tournament."

And he won't have to prove anything to the college coaches.