LEXINGTON, Ky. – After one of the greatest individual seasons for a point guard in Kentucky men’s basketball history, sophomore Tyler Ulis (pictured) declared for the 2016 NBA Draft at a press conference in Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday, April 6. He plans to sign with an agent, which would effectively end his career at UK.
Ulis will forego his future eligibility and enter his name in the upcoming NBA Draft, to be held June 23 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“First and foremost, I want to thank God,” Ulis said. “Without Him blessing me with the talent and the opportunity to play the game every day, none of this would be possible. To my family and friends, thank you for the love, support and sacrifices you’ve all made for me. Also, thank you for pushing and influencing me to become the best player I can be and always having faith in my game. To Coach Cal, Uncle KP (Kenny Payne) and the entire coaching staff, thank you for your tireless dedication and commitment to teach us to succeed on and off the court.
“With that being said, I’m ready to take on the challenge of playing at the next level and have declared for the NBA Draft. I will be hiring an agent.
“To all the fans, thank you for supporting me and embracing me from the moment I stepped on the floor. Your enthusiasm and spirit carried me over the last two seasons and you all make it even harder for me to leave.”
Ulis is the third underclassman from the 2015-16 Wildcats to declare for the 2016 NBA Draft. Freshman forward Skal Labissiere announced his decision Tuesday and freshman guard Jamal Murray declared for the draft last week. Senior forward Alex Poythress is also eligible for the draft.
“I’ve coached a lot of great leaders and great point guards in all my years of coaching. Tyler Ulis is the best floor general that I’ve ever coached,” head coach John Calipari said. “What I loved is he grew into that position. You couldn’t speed him up and you couldn’t slow him down unless he wanted to do one of those things. He coached the team this season as much as I did, and I’m proud to say that.
“Tyler did it on both ends of the floor. Being named the defensive player of the year in the SEC is quite an honor if you look at the past award winners. On the offensive end, not only was he efficient, he accounted for 17.3 points and 7.0 assists per game.
“I still remember the comments when we signed Tyler: ‘Cal finally got himself a four-year point guard!’ After two years, at his size, projected as a middle first-rounder – it’s truly an amazing story in itself. I’m going to miss him dearly because now it appears that all the coaching will fall back on my lap.”
Ulis’ season will go down as one of the all-time best by a point guard in school and Southeastern Conference history. The 5-foot-9 sophomore set the UK-single-season mark for assists in a season with 246, second all-time in the SEC.
Ulis was both an elite distributor and proficient scorer in his sophomore campaign, becoming the only player in league history with at least 606 points and at least 246 assists. He was one of only four players in the country this season to average at least 17.3 points and at least 7.0 assists per game. He ranked sixth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.6) and seventh in assists per game (7.0).
Among his most noteworthy achievements this season, Ulis had a stretch of 28 straight games with four or more assists, easily a school record. He has the single-season school record for most 20-point, five-assist games with 14, and according to the SEC Network, his three 20-point, 10-assist games this season are the most of any SEC player in the last 20 seasons.
In league play, Ulis averaged 8.4 assists with a 4.5 assist-to-turnover ratio. He played 672 of a possible 725 minutes in SEC games, committing a turnover once every 19.8 minutes per game.
Ulis’ value was probably best represented by his performances in Kentucky’s toughest games. Ulis came up big in UK’s seven games against ranked opponents, averaging an eye-popping 24.4 points and a team-high 7.6 assists. He shot 54.2 percent with a 3.8 assist-to-turnover ratio during those games.
For his efforts, Ulis was tabbed a consensus first-team All-American, the shortest consensus first-team All-American since Pittsburgh’s Don Hennon (5-9) in 1958. The SEC Player of the Year picked up All-America honors from all four of the NCAA-recognized All-American teams: Sporting News (first), Associated Press (first), the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (second) and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (second). This week he will head to Los Angeles as a John R. Wooden Award and Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award finalist.
Among the honors Ulis has received this postseason:
NCAA Consensus All-America First Team
Associated Press All-America First Team
Sporting News All-America First Team
USBWA All-America Second Team
NABC All-America Second Team
Wooden Award All-America Team
Sports Illustrated All-America First Team
CBS Sports All-America First Team
SEC Player of the Year (Coaches/AP)
SEC Tournament MVP
SEC Defensive Player of the Year (Coaches)
All-SEC First Team (Coaches/AP)
SEC All-Defensive Team (Coaches)
USA Today All-America First Team
CBS Sports SEC Player of the Year
USBWA District IV Player of the Year
USBWA All-District IV Team
NABC District 21 First Team
Naismith Trophy finalist
John R. Wooden Award finalist
USBWA Oscar Robertson finalist
Bob Cousy finalist
Ulis will end his Kentucky career with 381 career assists, 10th most in school history.
Players have until May 25 to make a final decision based on the new rule between the NCAA and NBA so long as they don’t hire an agent.
The NBA Draft Combine will take place May 11-15. Players who have not hired agents will have 10 days following that opportunity to make a final decision as to whether to forego their athletic eligibility or return to school.
Since Calipari joined the Wildcat program for the 2009-10 season, UK has produced 25 NBA Draft picks over six seasons, more than double any other school. Included in the 25 are 19 first-round selections, three No. 1 overall picks, 10 top-10 selections and 13 lottery picks.
Photo by Jamie H. Vaught