Everyone knew Tyler Ulis was a good prospect heading into July. He'd gained enough steam from spring events and the high school season to establish himself a high-major prospect.
But it wasn't until the EYBL Finals this past July that he catapulted to the next level of prestige. Ulis engaged in a fierce one-on-one battle versus Tyus Jones, a contest in which both players competed like champions. For his part, Ulis tossed in 22 points and dished out 17 assists with only four turnovers. Giving as much as he got against Jones — arguably the country's top overall prospect — placed Ulis into a different category of perception.
But first we'll take a step back to his sophomore season. At that time junior Jabari Parker owned the city's headlines and overshadowed even Jahlil Okafor. The mighty mite point guard had enjoyed a solid year and picked up an offer from DePaul that spring, but few outside the area had noticed him as yet.
Ulis' reputation expanded beyond Windy City limits during his junior season. He added offers from Iowa, Oregon State and Dayton, and he'd begun courtships with Michigan State, Marquette and Purdue, among others.
He hit the 2013 travel circuit running hot. He'll always face warranted suspicions due to his lack of height, but he converted some previous doubters at the NY2LA Swish N Dish.
By June, word had gotten almost all the way out. He also had trimmed his list to seven schools: DePaul, Florida State, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue and USC. Though still a Big Ten-centric list, schools on either coast also had become seriously involved.
And then the EYBL Finals happened, and Ulis reevaluated his plan. He said he'd reopen his recruitment to accommodate even more heavyweights scrambling to somehow enter the mix. How he ultimately allocates his official visits remains to be seen, but his ascension over the past month has been one of the most dramatic of anyone in the class.
Quickness and sharp driving ability stand out as featured aspects. Ulis isn't just quick, he's a darter who squeezes through traffic and drops off hot button assists to teammates for dunks.
Degree of difficulty on these passes can register high on the scale, but his 17-4 A-TO ratio against Jones and Howard Pulley Elite — while obviously not a typical performance — also wasn't a total fluke. He takes as much care of the ball as a player that size can who competes with such an aggressive style.
He's also an effective scorer who can stop anywhere along the way toward the rim and pull up for a short jump shot. His jumper extends to three-point range and at times pops the net with impressive accuracy.
His defensive work also merits comment. Ulis moves his feet very quickly on the perimeter and is tough to beat on dribble penetration.
As we've written about the various other small guards in the Class of 2014, Ulis is tiny by modern basketball standards. He doesn't face too many problems now because he's so superior athletically to most high school opponents, but translation historically tends to be challenging for the little guys when they step up to the major college level.
Ulis will face much bigger and stronger foes who can overpower him, and he could struggle against the numerous high screens he'll face on defense. His offensive game should be fine because of his multi-faceted scoring and distribution tools, but it's on the other end where certain teams are likely to apply a lot of pressure.
Limitations aside, his offer list speaks volumes about coaches' confidence that he'll successfully be able to make the adjustment. In addition to those programs that have offered, more heavyweights also are tossing their hats into the ring.
In terms of fit, Ulis may perform best if surrounded by a strong and bruising backcourt mate. Regardless, he's a big-time talent who enjoyed a stellar July period. His recruitment will continue to escalate as the weeks wear on, and he's talented enough to eventually start for any team that's recruiting him — or any team that would begin to recruit him.