By Jamie H. Vaught
Unlike the 2015-16 campaign which saw Mychal Mulder play in a very limited role at Kentucky with a total of 90 minutes in the Tyler Ulis-led backcourt, the 6-4 senior guard has become a very productive performer for the Wildcats this winter despite his recent illness which forced him to miss four games.
Mulder, a former junior college All-American from Vincennes (Ind.) University who transferred to UK, is seeing lots of playing time as a key reserve behind talented trio of guards Isaiah Briscoe, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk. Going into this week’s action, Mulder (pictured with his dad in a couple of photos here) is averaging 11.5 minutes and 6.0 points per game.
The well-round athlete has been deadly with his smooth downtown jumpers, hitting 25 of 65 three-pointers for 38.5 percent, the second-best on the team behind Monk’s 41.4 percent.
UK assistant coach Joel Justus said Mulder – who once was rated as the No. 18 junior college prospect -- has been a great addition for the program, adding that the Windsor, Canada, native worked extra hard during the recent holiday break.
“Mychal had a tremendous Camp Cal,” said Justus in mid-January. “Over the break Mychal was more competitive. He was one of the most competitive guys in practice during that time, and it’s paying off. I believe that Mike is playing maybe a little desperate with his career coming to an end here in the next couple of months.
“I’m happy for him, personally, with what he’s done. You see him putting in time. You see him getting to practice a little earlier, staying a little later. And by Mychal being better he’s making our team better.”
Mulder said he feels more comfortable with Kentucky mentor John Calipari and the coaching staff this season.
“I feel a ton more trust from the Coach, just this year to last year,” said Mulder. “Lot more opportunity to show I can defend and rebound, do those sort of intangible things that some guards don’t do. I feel a trust level rising, that’s for sure.”
Mulder, so far, has reached double figures in scoring four times this season. In Kentucky’s 92-72 win over Auburn in mid-January, Mulder had one of his best games as a Wildcat. He gunned in 12 points, hitting three of five field goals along with a perfect 5 of 5 free throws in 15 minutes.
Asked if that was his best performance of the year at that point, Mulder said, “Yeah, I feel like I played pretty well – fighting hard. A lot of opportunity to perform is what I think it is mostly, but I was happy with how I played.”
One of four UK players on the 2016-17 roster who were born outside of the U.S., Mulder also pumped in 13 points against Duquesne, 13 points vs. Cleveland State and 12 points vs. UT Martin, many of them three-point bombers.
Mulder’s parents are Randy Mulder and Jennifer Gignac, and his dad remembers one particular contest when the younger Mulder was hot against UT Martin.
“My favorite game was when Mychal started off hitting his first four treys and finishing 4 for 5 (three-pointers),” recalled Randy Mulder, a friendly personality who often can be seen at Rupp Arena near the floor wearing his Wildcat jersey or shirt that bears his son’s jersey number (11).
Mychal Mulder -- an explosive jumper with team’s second-best 44-inch vertical who once was considered a Top 10 prospect out of Canada in 2013 -- has said he feels like he’s on the right track and felt good about his own game after spending a year in Lexington and adjusting to the high-profile program.
“I’m confident. I’ve been playing better,” he said recently. “I feel like I have a lot more trust from Coach and I know the guys want everybody to have their opportunity, and I feel like we all look out for each other. That brings confidence in itself.”
Besides shooting, Mulder said he has been working out and trying to improve his overall game.
“I’m just working to always stay in shape,” he said. “Just do whatever’s asked of me, play my role, understand that role, work hard on the defensive end, rebound the ball and just play like a big guard.”
Asked about his son’s remarkable improvement from last year, the elder Mulder said, “Mychal always had the talent. He entered a new program with a new system. He went from a juco first-team All-American to a team of all-stars.
“He needed court time as a shooter’s confidence comes from being in the game. With a team that was so stacked, it was difficult to get playing time. Time to adjust to Coach Calipari’s system and more playing time for Mychal and confidence in him has been the difference, in my opinion.”
Before coming to Kentucky, Mulder drew interest from several major schools like Wichita State, Missouri, Creighton, Indiana, among others. But the Big Blue Nation is glad that he picked the Wildcats.
Mulder, whose hometown of Windsor is just across the river from Detroit, said a big reason he signed with UK is Calipari’s proven record of developing future NBA players.
The elder Mulder is pleased that his son had chosen to play his final two years at Kentucky.
“It was my opinion in the beginning when offered that UK was the best decision,” said Randy Mulder. “To be the best you have to play with the best. Last year he guarded Jamal Murray in practice. This year it is Malik Monk. How can you not help to improve by playing against the best players?
“That plus being under the tutelage of John Calipari, one of the best, if not the best, coaches there is, how could this not be the best situation?
“Mychal could have gone to another school and averaged 20 points per game but the exposure he has received is priceless. So yes, I feel it was the correct decision.”
With less than three weeks of regular season remaining, the Senior Night festivities are just around the corner. For the Mulders -- along with two other seniors Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis – the last home game will be an emotional time when the Wildcats host Vanderbilt on Tuesday night, Feb. 28 (9 p.m., ESPN) at Rupp Arena.
And Randy Mulder -- who has called himself Mr. Mom when Mychal was growing up -- is happy to share his personal thoughts about Kentucky with this columnist. He added that he has driven over 22,000 miles on his vehicle in 13 months, mostly from his 11-hour roundtrips to Windsor to Lexington on I-75 for UK home games.
“As Mychal’s career at UK winds down, I will miss Lexington very much,” said the elder Mulder, who had to retire from General Motors after suffering a very painful leg injury in a Harley motorcycle accident many years ago. “The people have been fantastic. Kentucky is beautiful. I will miss people that I have met -- Amy Newman, Dr. Michael Huang, Jerry Tipton and of course you, Mr. Jamie Vaught, to name a few.
“On Senior Night I will be bursting with pride and have melancholy filling my heart. My fiancé Claire is equally as sad in the fact that she will miss Lexington. The coaches have always been very helpful to me. The compliance folks and the media have been great.
“I will miss and haven't forgotten Jim and Mary Porter, Jessye Johnson, Barb Coleman and Dot Hanna, and a special thanks to Shaun Washington and Mrs. Anita Madden. I had the opportunity to meet former stars such as Jack Givens, Kenny Walker, Rex Chapman and Tony Delk, which was a thrill. These are memories that I will cherish.
“Last but not least, I will miss his teammates the most. (Hopefully) I was like a surrogate father to them. These are fine young men who were always willing to hug the old guy and put up with his nonsense. I wish them all the best and know that their futures are bright. May God keep them safe and help them along their journey.”
After that leg injury in 1983, which forced him to retire prematurely, Randy Mulder went to college and was eventually able to enjoy his fatherhood.
“I was employed at General Motors when I was hit by a car while riding my Harley,” he recalled. “After six months off and on in the hospital, I was unable to return to GM. After several years of recovery, I enrolled at the University of Windsor.”
And he received bachelor degrees in commerce and education along with a teaching certificate. But he was unable to teach because of his wounded leg.
“We adopted Mychal at three months old and I became Mr. Mom,” said Randy. “It afforded me the opportunity to drive Mychal all over to pursue his dream. Despite my constant pain, I was blessed with the opportunity to bond with my son and his teammates, and it was priceless.”
Well, needless to say, it has been a great ride for Mychal Mulder and his dad, and the faithful Wildcat fans at Rupp Arena will certainly miss seeing the Mulders’ No. 11 jerseys when the next season rolls around.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.
Photos by Jamie H. Vaught