Iowa played host to one of the most highly-ranked, out-of-state recruits in recent memory this weekend. Marian Catholic (Chicago Heights) point guard Tyler Ulis and his family spent three days on the campus for an official visit.
I caught up with Tyler's father, James Ulis, to obtain reaction to their Iowa stop. We ended up discussing a lot more:
Q. What was the overall vibe of the visit. How did you guys feel that it went?
James Ulis: We felt it went really well. Tyler seems to be very impressed and just happy about the whole weekend. He's talked to Fran quite a bit in the last year. It was great. It's kind of what I expected and what he expected. Fran's a great guy. He's always made it about us and let's Tyler know that he believes in him and is confident in him. So, it went really well.
Q. You said the visit was kind of what you expected. Was there anything that stood out beyond what you expected?
JU: Yes. Absolutely. Meeting (McCaffery's) family and seeing how close knit his family was and also his basketball family; I though the coaching staff and the players really were close and they just really felt genuine. I felt like they were all close but it wasn't staged. It felt authentic. We were at his house and everybody seem dot have a great relationship. It just really felt good. He talked to me about that before but seeing it and feeling it was different and really gave us an opportunity to see it for ourselves and to get a take on it and let us decide. It was great.
Q: How important is that for you guys, the relationship the coach has with his family and the one shared by the players and coaches?
JU: Iowa has always been good to Tyler. I have no problems saying that. But seeing that, I think it was really important. We walked away from it like, "wow." Again, Fran is a great guy and I thought that before I came but I really got to see him outside of basketball. You know, it's a visit and I'm sure that's what a lot of schools do for the kids, but to see him with his family…I had two conversations with both of his younger sons and you could just tell that family is important to them. That's important to us, too. Obviously, if Iowa was the choice that Tyler made, I would be OK with it with that being a strong reason why I would. I felt really good with his family and also the basketball family.
Q: How does it seem Tyler fits in with the guys on the Iowa team?
JU: I think he fits well because what I see on this team; I watched them quite a bit this year because I knew that Iowa was one of Tyler's top choices. It was one of the schools he was really interested in going to. I thought that the way that they played and they're shooters and unselfish guys was great. Then to meet them personally, they just seem like really good kids. They treated Tyler well, even the point guards. A lot of times those guys would be thinking this is the guy that if he went there we'd be battling for minutes. Bu Mike (Gesell) and (Anthony) Clemmons treated him as well as everybody else. They've got shooters and guys that can get to the hoop from the outside. They've got bigs that can get after it. So, I think it's a good fit basketball wise but the kids also seem to be good kids as well.
Q: How are you guys proceeding with the recruiting process? You have the three visits set up. Is USC still in it?
JU: The first question, proceeding wise, obviously that was the first of our officials. We'll go to Michigan State and Kentucky. Once we get there and they put forth what they have for Tyler we'll sit down and see where he is at. It's his decision. I'm a part of it but it's his decision to pick the school where he wants to play at and the person he wants to play for. As far as USC, we're not going to take a visit to USC.
Q: So, it's down to the three schools then?
Q: I'm asking you to get into Tyler's head a bit, but from the conversations you have with him, what is the decision going to come down to? Is it just a gut feeling?
JU: Well, really, it's a tough decision to make. Obviously, he's got three great schools. Obviously people want to talk about the pros and cons at each school. We know that. We've done our homework on all three schools, all three coaches. I watched all three schools play quite a bit. I think it comes down to him feeling where is the best fit long term for him. I think when you look at the three schools, there are major differences in some areas.
So, ultimately it is going to come down to where he thinks it's best for him long term. I don't know if that answers your question. It's a good situation getting that opportunity. We feel privileged and we feel blessed that he has three great schools wanting him. I think for him his goal was to play Division I basketball whether that's in the Big Ten or the SEC. That's a huge accomplishment. Other people can worry about his playing time or how much he has to do. We're actually focused on feeling good about him reaching another goal.
One of my least concerns is playing time. Tyler has shown that he will get on the court. He's a hard worker and he's a pretty good player. I think he's shown that. I've got to watch him more than anybody. He will be fine wherever he goes. We're not worried about playing time or whether he'll have the ball or not. That's up to him. If he's good enough, and I feel that he is, any coach will give him the ball and let him play, whether it's Michigan State, Iowa or Kentucky. He wants people around him that can shoot the ball.
Q: This isn't about it being a situation where Kentucky offers so you go to Kentucky, right? It's about looking at each school and going through the process and finding the best fit? It's not just a formality that he's going to end up at Kentucky because it's Kentucky.
JU: No. If it was a formality, I think we would have went to USC. It is California. The weather is great and that would have been a nice trip. When people say that, I laugh. It's never been about that. For me and for Tyler, it's about going through the process. Nothing is a formality. He has earned the right to go through this process. I know him personally. He's my son. Others don't know him personally. Relationships are important to us. He's been at the same high school the whole time he's been (in Chicago after moving from Ohio). He has the same friends that he's had since he moved to Chicago. We're pretty big on relationships. Now with that being said, he's still got a tough decision to make.
Obviously we know Fran better than the other coaches. I feel comfortable saying that. That's just being honest. But he has to look at the whole picture. There are other schools that worked hard to get Tyler before we met Fran. It comes down to if the school is right for Tyler. I just think that the relationship is an important part of it. That does make people feel more comfortable. But nothing is a formality. We'll sit down after (the visits) and if he tells me where he wants to go, I'll say OK. Let's make that decision. I've already given him the pros and cons of the schools. So when people are making comments about where they think he's going, trust me, I know the type of challenges that puts on Tyler. But he's not about that.
It's the same when we got here and were picking a high school. People were saying he shouldn't go to Marian (Catholic). It wasn't a basketball school. He would never be seen. They would never win. If you look at all of those things, they all happened. They won, he was seen and he built a great relationship with Coach (Mike) Taylor. That's what I want for him. He's got an opportunity to play for a state championship this year. That's all I really wanted for him. I wanted him to get an education and have fun. And he is. That's ultimately what it comes down to, being happy and having fun. That's the same experience I want for him in college. Again, that comes down to him and how hard he works and how he continues to grow as a player. I think some of his best basketball is still ahead of him.
Tyler has a lot of fun when he's playing basketball. More importantly, he's having a lot of fun when he's not playing basketball. To me, that's critical. Just like with college, I want him to go somewhere where he's going to enjoy it. It won't be where everybody thinks he should go. At the end of the day, everyone goes through this process. You have to make tough decisions in life. We're really pleased that these three schools are fighting to get him. We just want to go through the process and let him make his decision. He knows he's going to disappoint some folks. That concerns him because he's a good kid. He's built relationships with these guys. There were teams that didn't make the final list that he had great relationships with. Oregon State was one of the first schools that called him. Great coaches. But you have to make a decision what's best for you. I think we've built a lot of great relationships and been very transparent. It's like with USC. We could have taken a visit out there just to hang out in LA and go through it. But we have a lot of respect for them and what they're trying to do. They're trying to build a program. If my son isn't going to go there as a point guard, it gives them time to find somebody else.
Q: Tyler tells schools he's no longer considering to move on with their recruitment of other point guards. He gets his list to seven. Then he lets schools like Kentucky, Miami and Missouri in late and gets some blowback. Can you talk about that?
JU: I think a lot of information gets mixed up. It's partially what we say in interviews mixing with what people think they hear. Every time something happens in his recruitment, we don't alert the media. Tyler has been approached by schools that people may not even know of. We just say we don't have an interest, which is the right thing to say. Then there are schools that have called that he has had interest in. Kentucky called.
That's something he's interested in. I don't think that should be a negative. He has that choice. We're from Ohio. I'm an Ohio State fan. So, if Ohio State called him, he might talk to them because of my liking them or he may say he's not interested. Either way…Miami, Shane Larkin just played there and had great success. Why not take a look?
I think people that saying things don't understand that he has a right to look at all the schools that offered. If he had 30 or 35 offers, there may only be five that he really likes. There are schools that haven't approached him, like Duke or North Carolina. But if they call, he should have a right to say he's interested if it's a school he likes. That's his right. That doesn't change what our plan has been. If Kentucky doesn't call, then obviously we don't have Kentucky in the final three. They did call and they had been watching Tyler a lot. They hadn't offered and the interest wasn't real strong, but there was interest for a while. It's a school he liked so he put them in.
When he got down to his final four, those were his picks. I never put pressure on him to pick Kentucky because it's Kentucky. I just asked how he was feeling and what he thought of each school as they showed interest.
Q: Iowa has been recruiting Tyler for a long time and it seems like you all have built a nice relationship. Any final thoughts on your visit there?
JU: I would say that the Iowa coaching staff, the Iowa family and the players, they have a lot to be proud of. Those guys were truly genuine and professional. They were very engaging. People may say that's how everyone is on a official visit. Maybe so. But I felt comfortable. I had a great time there. Tyler had a great time. I thank Coach McCaffery. I've always said it in every interview I've done, he's a great guy. I like the guy. I have no problem if Tyler says Iowa is the place he wants to go. If he says that's what he wants to do, I'll say let's go.
I think everyone wants to speculate where he's going and all of that. People ask me where he's going and I really don't know. Eventually he will make a decision and talk it over with his close family members and that includes cousin Travis (Walton). We're all going to support what he's going to do no matter what.
He's got all of the information. He knows all three schools. People make comments. He knows Kentucky. He knows who comes into Kentucky. He knows Iowa and their history. He knows Michigan State. We'll trust his decision because it's going to be where he wants to go. As I've said, I think he'll be successful wherever he goes. It's more about him than it is about anything else.
How hard do you think the decision ultimately will be?
JU: It's very tough. Again, when you think of the schools, their are differences. They run different systems. There are different levels of success. But I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out. Again, I like his last three choices. I love that he has a great relationship with all three teams.
We're not trying to waste anyone's time. We would have taken the trip to USC if we were going that. How many families wouldn't want to go out to LA for a few days and hang out. We wouldn't have gone to Iowa if he wasn't serious about Iowa.
I just think people want to be right when they predict where he's going to go. That's why people think he's going to Michigan State because of his cousin (Travis Walton). Then when Kentucky came in, people said it was over because Kentucky is a big-time program. So, if the "experts" are going to pick a school, they want to look right. We're not going to get caught up in that. We'll see what happens. We have a couple of more visits to go to and it will be fun. It will be over soon.