LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — The exodus of Kentucky players heading to the NBA continued on Wednesday with point guard Tyler Ulis becoming the third Wildcat in the past week to announce his intention to turn pro.
“I feel like this is my time,” Ulis said during a news conference, adding that he plans to sign with an agent.
Ulis was an Associated Press first team All-American — one of several consensus selections for the 5-foot-9 sophomore — and the AP Southeastern Conference’s top player. He averaged 17.3 points, 7 assists and a team-high 37 minutes per game and broke John Wall’s single-season school record for assists with 246.
He is a projected to be a first-round selection in the June 23 NBA draft.
“I’ve been dreaming about this all my life,” Ulis said, sitting at a table with his parents and stepparents. “Me and my brother used to run around all of Chicago, just playing guys 2-on-2, trying to hustle people. It feels like yesterday, but now we’re here. I’m very happy.”
Ulis arrived in Lexington with projections of playing four years for coach John Calipari but showed hints of his playmaking skills as a backup last season to Andrew Harrison. The Wildcats were clearly his team this season, and his poise and leadership led Calipari to call him the best floor leader he has ever coached.
He even joked that Ulis helped him coach during those rare moments on the bench.
“I still remember the comments when we signed Tyler: ‘Cal finally got himself a four-year point guard!,’” the coach said in a statement. “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 joins freshman backcourt mate Jamal Murray and 6-foot-11 Skal Labissiere in the NBA draft pool. Like his teammates, Ulis’ decision wasn’t surprising after he was referred to as one of the nation’s best point guards.
Ulis and Murray formed one of the nation’s highest-scoring backcourt tandems, combing for almost 37 points per game. Kentucky rode that duo all season with Ulis either setting up teammates, spotting up for shots or driving to the basket himself.
Ulis was none the worse for wear other than shin splits and never appeared tired despite rarely taking a break.
Ulis’ size hasn’t impacted his draft stock and he aims to be the next undersized guard to have a successful NBA career.
“I feel like I gave my all in every game I played,” Ulis said. “I just always tried to leave it out there on the floor and do whatever I needed to do for my team.”
Kentucky has announced that freshman Skal Labissiere will enter the NBA draft, the second Wildcat in the past four days to announce he will turn pro.
The 6-foot-11, 225-pound Haitian’s announcement follows Jamal Murray’s decision on Friday. The school said in a release Tuesday that Labissiere will hire an agent.
He is projected as a first-round draft selection despite struggling for much of his lone season with the Wildcats. Labissiere lost his starting spot by midseason but improved enough to reclaim it down the stretch and finish with averages of 6.6 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said of Labissiere, “I think in time he will be in the same breath as all of our big guys who have performed well in the NBA.”