Sometimes people like to go off the reservation — you know, think out of the box a bit, come up with stuff off the beaten path. So it is when Bryan Hamilton of Sports Illustrated tells us that Tyler Ulis will be the top freshman in the SEC next season
Let's think about this for just one moment. First of all, of all the players in Kentucky's #2 ranked recruiting class, Ulis happens to be the 2nd lowest rated of the bunch. In isolation that means nothing — college basketball scouting sites have made mistakes before. Who would argue that Andrew Harrison was a better point guard than Tyler Ennis last season? Yet Ennis was ranked all the way down at #22, compared to Andrew's #5 (Rivals.com).
Interestingly enough, Ulis' play in the all-star game has earned him that coveted 5th star, and he now sits at #21 in the 2014 class, much like Ennis last season. Obviously, he doesn't have Ennis' size and length, but Ulis showed in the all-star games at the end of the season a remarkable poise and ability to control the game that is far beyond his tender years, and that is a rare, and incredibly valuable commodity. His small size is a disadvantage, to be sure, but disadvantages can be overcome.
I am not quite ready to pronounce Ulis the FOY, and it has nothing at all to do with him. I am sure that Andrew Harrison will be much better next season than last, and Ulis will do nothing but help that happen. Andrew will have to learn to defend a smaller, quicker guard in practice, and that will help him do what he could not do well last season.
But Ulis is not going to warm the bench — oh, no, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation. He's going to play plenty, and if Andrew begins to wane like Willie Cauley-Stein did in the middle of last season, you should not be surprised to see Ulis take over his starting spot. So Andrew had better bring his "A" game to every practice, and to every game, because Ulis is going to push him — hard.
The real reason I don't buy Ulis as POY is one Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns is an astonishingly gifted player, in some ways even more gifted than Anthony Davis. I know, I know, dear Wildcats fan — you doubt. But after you see him next season, you won't doubt any more.
Towns is one of the most talented players ever to don a Kentucky uniform at his ridiculously young age, and everybody who seriously pays attention to incoming players knows this. His gifts are manifest and multifaceted. Only his youth and inexperience work against him. Yes, he is more talented than Ulis, or Trey Lyles, or Jahlil Okafor or anyone else in this class. Only his lack of AAU playing time have him relegated to the 5th best prospect in the land.
Tyler Ulis is going to be outstanding, and he's going to be here a while — I can't remember the last first-round draft pick under 6' tall in the NBA — perhaps Ty Lawson. But Ulis is a much different situation at 5'8", and that's something we should celebrate, not complain about. This kid is going to be All-SEC and possibly All-American multiple years at Kentucky — just not, in my opinion, next season.