Marian Catholic High School point guard Tyler Ulis had a successful season as a sophomore, averaging 21 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds per game. But he was frustrated with how the season ended.
"It went pretty well until I got injured late in the season. I think we should've gone farther; we lost in the regional championship against Andrew."
Ulis suffered a high ankle sprain, an injury that is usually difficult to heal. Ulis claims it's back to full strength.
"It's healed now. I sat out about two weeks and missed the last three conference games and came back the first game of the playoffs. Then I took a week off after the season, and I was fine when we started practicing for AAU."
Ulis has a special opportunity this AAU season, playing with players bigger and older than himself on Meanstreets.
"AAU is going well. I'm playing up with in the 17U Division this year in the Nike EYBL and playing with players like Kendrick Nunn, Jaylon Tate, Paul White and Kendall Pollard. Everyone else pushes me to get better. And we're ranked third in the country right now."
While playing up is a privilege for Ulis, he believes the older players appreciate what he contributes to the team.
"I come off the bench but play a lot. I think they like to play with me and have accepted me onto the team because you need to have a deep bench to win in the EYBL."
Ulis spent most of his life in Ohio, so the coaching change from Bruce Weber to John Groce at the University of Illinois aided the Illini's cause. He was previously recruited by Groce at Ohio, a process that has continued.
Ulis has visited the UI campus once previously, for a game he will never forget.
"I took a visit when they played Ohio State, and Brandon Paul had 43. It was a great experience. It was a good environment, and I liked the crowd. It was just a good game."
Meanstreets coach Emmanuel Christmas describes Ulis's game.
"He's the ultimate point guard. He has as good a ball handling skills as anyone else. He gets everybody involved and makes everybody else so much better. He can do everything from the point guard spot.
Ulis added a couple extra details.
"I believe my strengths are dribbling, getting my teammates involved, my pull-up and my defense."
He also stated several things he would like to improve.
"I just really need to hit the weight room and work on my body, quickness and explosiveness."
At 5'-8", Ulis is undersized against most opponents. Many would consider his height a weakness, but he doesn't look at it that way.
"I don't think it's a weakness at all because I've always been little, so I'm used to it. And I'm only 16, so I will grow more. I think it can be an advantage in some ways; I think I can be a lot quicker than everyone else."
Christmas says Ulis more than makes up for his lack of size.
"Oh yeah, big-time. Defensively too. He plays both ends of the floor. With his height, a lot of people think they can just run him over. But he's tough, and he can rebound too."
Ulis has received offers from DePaul and Loyola. He is also receiving interest from Michigan State, Tennessee, Ohio State, Colorado State, Marquette, and all the in-state schools including Illinois. He says Groce's style fits what he wants in a college basketball program.
"I want to play in an offense that uses the ball screen and pushes the ball."
The Illini coaching staff has a connection with the Meanstreets program according to Christmas.
"They recruited D.J. Cooper, so that's probably the connection right there."
Christmas is getting better acquainted with Illini assistant Jamall Walker.
"I think he's a bright guy. He's getting to know me, and I'm getting to know him."
Ulis does not have any more visits planned yet. But he says he wants to visit Illinois again eventually.