Dream Made Real: Ulis Headed to NBA
Signs were everywhere that this day would come for Tyler Ulis.
There was the preternatural ball-handling talent Ulis showed as a toddler.
“He could dribble the ball like it was on a string since he was like 2 and 3 and that’s the honest truth,” said Ulis’ mother, Kelly Reed.
There were the impressions he made on people who watched him play as a youngster.
“I actually have a letter from a teacher that he had to write a paper and she said how she watched him on the playground and his dream was to go to the NBA and she said how she sees him making it because she just watched him on the playground,” Reed said.
There was the letter Ulis wrote describing his goals.
“If you ask Kelly, there’s a paper he wrote in second or third grade,” said James Ulis, Tyler’s father. “He was explaining what all our jobs were, but then he said, ‘Well my job is that I’m going to be an NBA player down the road.’ And again, every step he’s taken, he said he’d do it. He said he’d be a college All-American and lead a big-time basketball program. He said he’d make the NBA. That’s the next step. He’s always believed in himself.”
But others have always doubted. Some pointed to his size. Some played the numbers game in telling him reaching his dream was unlikely.
“I remember writing it (and) teachers would always say, ‘You need to write something else. It’s hard to get to the NBA,’ ” Ulis said. “And I’m like, ‘You don’t tell the doctors and lawyers that.’ Ever since I’ve been a youngin’, just tried to stick to my goals, have faith in myself and stay confident.”
Ulis always had his family behind him and eventually high-level college scholarship offers came in. It wasn’t until he heard from a coach who envisioned the same future Ulis always has that he knew where he would go.
“It was before I even committed here when he told me, ‘Don’t come here if you want to be a four-year point guard,’ ” Ulis said. “He wants his guys to make their dream come true – go to that next level. It doesn’t matter how long they’re here.”
Calipari and Ulis were both proven right on Wednesday.
Surrounded by family, Ulis announced his intentions to declare for the NBA Draft and hire an agent after two years at UK. Following one of the best seasons by a point guard in program history, Ulis will move on to the next level.
“I still remember the comments when we signed Tyler: ‘Cal finally got himself a four-year point guard!’ ” Calipari said. “After two years, at his size, projected as a middle first-rounder – it’s truly an amazing story in itself.”
Even Ulis – a consensus All-American who averaged 17.3 points and 7.0 assists per game in leading UK to Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament titles in 2015-16 – might not have foreseen this happening so soon.
“I expected two years at the least,” Ulis said. “Last year, I knew the team we had and the way my body was, I wasn’t prepared yet. But this year, I’ve had a plan before the season started. And I feel like I’ve done most of it for the most part, besides winning the national title. I feel like, like I said, this is my time.”
Ulis made the mature decision to stay even after his three classmates – Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker and Trey Lyles – left after their freshmen season, one in which UK started the season 38-0 before falling in the Final Four. Now he’ll rejoin them.
“Well you know Book, Karl and those guys still tease me every day about still being in college,” Ulis said. “Still going to class, still being a college boy, but it will be fun to go up there in those levels and just play with the best people in the world.”
Ulis always dreamed that day would come, but it took a couple seasons at Kentucky to give him the final polish he needed to make it reality.
“To Coach Cal, Uncle KP (Coach Kenny Payne), and the rest of the coaching staff, thanks for the dedication and hard work you’ve put in for us as players and trying to make us succeed to the highest level we can,” Ulis said. “With that being said, I feel like I am ready to open a next chapter in my life and enter the NBA Draft and I will be hiring an agent.
“To all my fans, thank you for everything, supporting me and embracing me since day one when I stepped on campus. Without you guys, I don’t think I would’ve been able to make it through these two seasons and I thank you for that and it was hard for me to leave.”