Iowa in Play for Ulis

Listen to national pundits, an Iowa has little to no chance at landing elite PG Tyler Ulis. Look closer at his recruitment and you see that the Hawkeyes clearly are in the mix. Read why they have a legitimate shot at him in this analysis from HI Publisher Rob Howe.

Fran McCaffery continues to rebuild the Iowa basketball program, piece by piece. The coach could receive an indication of how far he's come this week.

Highly-regarded point guard recruit Tyler Ulis is expected to officially visit Iowa City for three days beginning this Friday, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Henricksen. Scout.com ranks the Chicago Heights Marian Catholic and Meanstreets star as the No. 29 player in the 2014 Class, regardless of position. He's the No. 6 lead guard.

Ulis lists his other finalists as Kentucky, Michigan State and USC. A fringe fan can see that the Hawkeyes sit among select company.

To a degree, McCaffery already has shown that the Hawkeyes have come a long way since he arrived to resurrect the program four year ago. It was a struggle to beat out Western Kentucky and Eastern Michigan for recruits back then, let alone be in the discussion with the Wildcats and Spartans, college basketball royalty.

National recruiting analysts are giving Iowa little chance to beat the big dogs for Ulis. The odds certainly are with them.

McCaffery identified Ulis earlier than most scouts. The Hawkeyes, DePaul and Oregon State were the only schools to have offered a scholarship to him as recently as February.

"I love Iowa," Ulis told me last month during a AAU tournament in suburban Chicago.

"I love Coach McCaffery. We have a great relationship as well as a couple of the other coaches (Sherman Dillard and Andrew Francis) on the coaching staff. I trust them and I like where he's coming from. I like that he's trying to build a program. I like his energy and how he approaches things."

Perhaps Ulis is awarding the Hawkeyes a courtesy visit based on how hard the coaches have worked to earn his trust and commitment. I mean, how could he honestly pick a program that hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since 2006 ahead of blue bloods Kentucky and MSU, right?

Luckily for Iowa, logic and perception often are absent in recruiting. Emmanuel Mudiay serves as a prime example of that after on Saturday choosing SMU ahead of Kentucky, Kansas and everybody else. He is the No. 1-ranked PG in '14 and the Mustangs haven't been in the Big Dance ('93) since three years before he was born.

Yes, SMU is coached by hall-of-famer Larry Brown. Yes, it's an hour from Mudiay's home. Still, he's headed to a Mustang program that hasn't won an NCAA game since '88 instead of Kentucky and Kanas.

Perhaps I'm naive. Maybe I'm blinded by the black and gold world in which I reside.

I don't think it's just a courtesy visit by Ulis. I honestly think he believes he can raise the Hawkeyes to national title contention and McCaffery is selling him on that notion.

"I'm not leaning anywhere right now," Ulis told me a little more than a month ago. "I don't know where I'm going yet. I honestly don't know where I'm going to go. I haven't really looked that much into any of the schools. I haven't looked at their rosters or taken a close look at the academics. So, we just have to sit down in August and start to work on it and see what I want to do."

Ulis could have committed to Kentucky when Coach John Calipari offered him a scholarship during an unofficial visit there a little more than a week ago. The same scenario was available in late June when he was in East Lansing.

Instead, Ulis decided to officially visit each school as another step in his deliberate process. Why even do that if he already has made up his mind? The answer is that he hasn't, at least not completely.

Iowa has a chance. How much of one only Tyler knows and he's not tipping his hand in the slightest. The word on the street is speculation, at best

A very close-knit Iowa program is afforded an opportunity to put its best foot forward this week and roll out the red carpet for Ulis. The Hawkeyes can build on a comfort level he already feels having visited campus a few times.

"I like the town and the facilities," Ulis told me a month ago. "I went to one game and it was a great atmosphere."

Iowa has made Ulis feel special by devoting three coaches to his recruitment.

"It's great," Ulis told me last month. "That's what builds the relationship. We've been talking for a while. They've been recruiting me for a while. It's nice to know that they want me that bad and I'm getting to know all of the coaches. I know I can trust them."

Kentucky and Michigan State can sell Ulis on joining a successful lineage of point guards at each school. But maybe he doesn't desire to be the next John Wall or Mateen Cleaves. Maybe he envisions being the first Tyler Ulis.

Mudiay chose to blaze his own path.

"I want to do something different," Mudiay said to ESPN. "The program is changing under Coach Brown and I really believe in him. When he talks with me it's not only about basketball, it's about life after the game: What are my interests outside the game and how I will be able to take care of myself and my family."

The other schools being a better road to the NBA than Iowa also is an overblown theory. If you're good enough, you'll make the league. Consider C.J. McCollum, the 10th pick in June's draft from Lehigh, as Exhibit A.

You're going to hear a lot about it being a two-horse race for Ulis. MSU and Izzo versus Kentucky and Calipari is a sexy story line. It's also an obvious one.

Ulis is digging deeper during his selection process. His eyes are forward.

"I really don't look at what a school has done in the past because I feel like if I go somewhere we should be able to win," Ulis told me a month ago. "Certain schools are just missing certain pieces. So, I don't really look in the past because the past has nothing to do with what's going to happen in the future."


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