Bulls Suns Basketball

Phoenix Suns guard Tyler Ulis, a Marian Catholic grad, tries to dribble past Bulls guard Jerian Grant during a game on Nov. 19. Ulis played 31 minutes against the Bulls on Tuesday.

Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press

CHICAGO | It last happened during the 1987-88 season when Gary's Tellis Frank and Winston Garland were on the same NBA team.

Two guys with Region ties drafted by the Golden State Warriors — the 6-foot-10 Frank was a first-round pick from Western Kentucky and point guard Garland taken in Round 2 from Missouri State.

Tuesday night, it happened again when Tyler Ulis (Marian Catholic, Kentucky) and Alec Peters (Valparaiso University) suited up for the Phoenix Suns against the Bulls.

If either team were any younger, they'd get carded.

I know it's a stretch, but the Region deserves kudos once again. Playing pro basketball is the dream of every youngster who can chew gum and dribble behind their back at the same time. There was never a doubt with Ulis and Peters.

"Tyler's been great," interim Suns coach Jay Triano said earlier. "He kinda got thrown into a situation where he's had to play a lot of minutes after the (Eric) Bledsoe trade and has taken full advantage of his minutes.

"He gained a lot of confidence last year, getting minutes and playing with Alan Williams. They had a real good connection and he's kinda carried it through to this season."

Averaging 7.4 points and four assists, Ulis usually starts before getting a breather from rookie Mike James.

While Ulis finds himself in the express lane, the 6-9 Peters is stuck on the merging ramp, waiting for a break in traffic. He's played a total of 12 minutes in two games prior to Tuesday.

In his last five games: the Illinois native had two DNPs and three inactives.

"Alec hasn't had much a chance with us yet," Triano said. "He's shot the ball well and been able to come to our practices and learn a little bit about being in the league, but there's too many players at the '4' right now.

"Marquese Chriss, Josh Jackson, Jared Dudley and Alan Williams are all playing the same position."

The Suns and Bulls are the NBA's youngest teams with an average age of 24.5 years, but Phoenix has the brighter future based on its current roster.

Peters, the 24th pick in the second round, is willing to wait after being "The Man" at VU much of his college career.

"Everybody's got a role on this team and mine right now just happens to be a guy who's going to use his voice — though I can't be out there on the court — to vocally help guys as much as I can.

"Whatever (Triano) needs from me or our team needs from me to win, that's what I'm going to do."

Back in college, the Crusaders needed much from Peters and got it — a 17.5 career scoring average for 134 games, including 23 points and 10.1 rebounds his senior year.

"It's an adjustment," he said. "You got to pay your dues, wait your time, and when you get an opportunity, be ready.

"Nobody is ever truly 'ready' for the NBA. Like anybody else, you have to learn, you have to grow, and continue to get better because everybody in this league is the best in the world."

Peters credited former VU coach Bryce Drew and assistant Roger Powell for preparing him for that difficult climb onto the big stage.

"They always said keep your head down and keep working; make sure you're extra focused on what you're doing because nothing is promised you," Peters said.

Ulis, a high second-round pick in 2016, believes the Suns will be playoff bound in a few more seasons, maybe sooner.

"We're such a young team, we're just trying to get used to each other," he said before tip-off. "They want me to get a little more aggressive, have better control of my game in getting T.J. (Warren), Kevin (Booker) and those guys their shots.

"We have a lot of young talent. We just want all our fans to be patient with us. We understand we're gonna take our lumps. In a couple of years, we feel we can make something special happen here."

The Bulls had the league's worst record at 3-15, were losers of five straight and 1-10 on the road.

The Suns weren't exactly stopping traffic at 7-14 and losers of three straight.

But on a positive note, the Phoenix bench ranked seventh in the NBA with 39.3 points per game and the team was No. 1 in pace — averaging 105.7 possessions per 48 minutes.

Peters and Ulis have a right to be excited.

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This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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