BOYS BASKETBALL | TIMES PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Times Illinois Boys Basketball Player of the Year: Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis

2014-03-29T19:00:00Z 2014-03-29T23:31:12Z Times Illinois Boys Basketball Player of the Year: Marian Catholic's Tyler UlisMike Nieto mike.nieto@nwi.com, (219) 933-3232 nwitimes.com
March 29, 2014 7:00 pm  • 

About the only thing that slowed Tyler Ulis was turf toe.

The Marian Catholic senior guard and McDonald's All-American played with it during the Spartans' Class 4A Sectional title win over Homewood-Flossmoor and in their Illinois State Super-Sectional loss to Edwardsville.

Even then, he was hard to stop.

Ulis said he used some of last week's spring break "to rest my foot." That was when he was not in Chicago for a photo shoot for Wednesday's McDonald's All-American Games at United Center. He will also play in the Jordan Brand Classic on April 18 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Ulis averaged 23.3 points, 6.8 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game in leading Marian Catholic to a 28-3 mark, one win short of a trip to Peoria. He finished as the program's all-time leading scorer (2,335) and assists leader (578). His 723 points and 206 assists this year are program single-season bests. he was the first player to make the McDipper all-tournament team four years in a row and was a two-time MVP.

What he did was put the program on the boys basketball map as the Spartans won 57 games over two seasons. Despite the accomplishments, Ulis and his teammates are disappointed it didn't culminate with a trip to Peoria to play for the Class 4A title.

"We came up a little short than what we wanted," Ulis said. "We had a great run, but we wanted a little more."

For the second straight year, Ulis, a Kentucky recruit, is The Times Player of the Year. He joins a select group of Homewood-Flossmoor's Julian Wright (2004, 2005), Thornwood's Eddy Curry (2000, 2001) and Thornton's Melvin Ely (1996, 1997) to win back-to-back honors. All three went on to play in the NBA, and Ulis would like to be in that company.

"That is my goal," Ulis said. "I always dreamed about it."

This year, Marian went around the Midwest, playing from Michigan to Wisconsin to Ulis' native Ohio.

"He definitely did (put the program on the map)," Marian coach Mike Taylor said of Ulis. "We had the chance to play all over and some big events in Chicago. People know about our program and more importantly, it gets the word out about our school and people will take notice about what we have to offer academically and athletically."

Taylor said that while Ulis is a great shooter (56 percent from the field) and a great passer, there's an attribute that separates All-Americans from the rest.

"The thing that stands out with Tyler is his desire to win," Taylor said. "He didn't care about points or assists, but he did care about winning and he can manage the game, run the floor real well. He got everyone involved and that was a big plus because you had to guard everyone on our team. Teammates John Oliver, Ki-Jana Crawford, Josh Cohn and Terrone Parham all got their share of points and the limelight."

Ulis, who is 5-foot-9, did not let naysayers get in the way of his dream to play basketball. He was born in suburban Detroit, grew up in Lima, Ohio, but came to live with his dad James in Matteson after his eighth grade year. He was one of the top incoming freshman in the Buckeye State, but he does not look back.

"I think if I had stayed in Ohio, I would not have (had) as much success as I did at Marian," Ulis said. "I just really liked it at Marian, made friends with my teammates and we just jelled."

As far as his being 5-3 when he was a freshman, he said he wanted to prove it is the size of the heart of the player.

"For all the smaller guys, you can do it," Ulis said. "You have to work, but don't let anyone tell you what you cannot do. I never saw my size as a problem. Our whole team was not that big, but we went out and hustled, got rebounds, played good defense."

Bloom Township 5-10 guard Zerell Jackson said Ulis was just a great all-around player.

"He came out and hit 40 against us in the (Thornton) sectional," Jackson said. "He proved you don't have to be 6-3 to play guard. We figured he would start off passing and then in the second half shoot. Well, he came out shooting right away and he hit a few from way out. A great shooter, a great passer and a great competitor."

Ulis' cousin is former Michigan State star and 2009 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Travis Walton. Another cousin, Shareese Ulis, was a point guard for the University of Cincinnati.

Ulis, who has his own Wikipedia entry, said he is looking forward to Wednesday and his trip to Brooklyn. In the McDonald's Games, he will play against future Kentucky recruit Karl-Anthony Thomas, who is on the East team. Ulis and future teammates Devin Booker and Trey Lyles are on the West team.

"It's an honor to be chosen to play with the best," Ulis said. "I look forward to seeing my future teammates and playing with (Whitney Young star and Duke recruit) Jahlil Okafor. I look forward to playing against (Kentucky recruit) Anthony and Cliff Alexander (Curie, Kansas). I get to go up against some of the best."

The next step is playing for John Calipari, who has recruited some top point guards, including Simeon product and Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose. He recruited Rose when he was the coach at the University of Memphis.

"Kentucky is a great program and I know there are challenges ahead," Ulis said. "I am just going to have to work hard. What I did in high school doesn't matter."

Ulis was kidded by his teammates for the various gym shoes he has. The joke was Ulis needed the boxes for his recruiting letters. His dad is Nike Store Director, based out of Chicago.

"I got about 8 or 900 of them," Ulis said of the letters. "One big box and few shoe boxes. It's cool and I will probably hang onto them for a while."

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