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Wildcats Basketball: Tyler Ulis... Paying Homage to an All-Timer

We have likely watched Tyler Ulis for the final time as a Wildcat. It is only appropriate to honor him accordingly.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The wound from last night is still fresh and gaping, and while it was not the 'heartbreak' of years past, the level of frustration is still palpable.

One certainty in the life of a sports fan is that you are going to experience joy, drama, euphoria, heartbreak, frustration, indifference, and a number of other nouns...sometimes during one game.

Another thing you can also count on is time to heal wounds.  The frustration of this season is going to fade, likely even faster than expected due to next season's expectations, combined with Calipari's likely best class ever.

What is unlikely to fade though, is the probable loss of Tyler Ulis.  I know that the decision has not been made and I would LOVE nothing more than to be wrong, but odds are we just watched him play his last game in a Kentucky uniform.

While he will walk away with accolades and all of the respect, the bottom line is Tyler Ulis deserved a better level of team success at Kentucky.  Ulis gave Big Blue nation more than any fanbase deserves.  He gave us the peace of mind that we were always in control with him on the floor.

He gave us moments of heart over height like the dagger against Louisville and countless other shots to the heart of opposing fan bases.  He gave us moments of leadership most men only dream of like coaching the team at South Carolina.

He took on all comers and laid waste to national media talking heads that questioned the scope of his impact.  Tyler Ulis broke the UK single season assists record on a team with only one other legitimate scoring option than himself.

For Tyler Ulis to have a limited impact on the possibility of history in 2015 is unfortunate and bad timing.

For Tyler Ulis to be given the keys to a program that has been a nearly annual lock for a Final 4...only to see a group of kids avoid a chance to join him at Kentucky is perplexing.

For Tyler Ulis to take a fatally flawed team and metaphorically roll the boulder to the top of the hill, only to see it roll all the way back down is just unfair.

The culmination of the above, and having his two seasons end the way they did, relative to his impact...well, that is simply criminal.

Over the course of time, the non-linear impact that some players make on a program is diminished.

The line becomes blurred between nostalgic reference of a few choice moments and some career stats pulled from a website.  Now, people will always know about them, if for no other reason than being a Kentucky fan means knowing your own history more than any other program.

I am of the belief that this will most certainly *NOT* be the case for Tyler Ulis.  Ulis will be remembered by many (including myself) as the best point guard to ever lace them up for the Wildcats.

While he will only have two seasons, you can see in this piece I put together that he would rewrite the record books if he were here for 4 years.

However, it is not about the numbers with Tyler Ulis.  It is about what we all watched, felt, and experienced.

Tyler Ulis has always been the smaller player...he has always been told he is not big enough...he has always had to disprove other people's assumptions about him based on physical appearance.

At every step, he has exceeded expectations and handed out more reasons for Mea Culpa than probably any given number of 5-star recruits combined.

Kentucky, under Calipari, has risen to the top of almost every recruit's wish list.  Those recruits consist of players who have never been told ‘no' in their athletic lives.  They have dominated the competition at every level.

Many have never had to have a gut check and reassess what they need to do in order to improve their game.

99% percent of them are physical specimens that are noticed immediately when they walk in a room.  People whisper and either ask who that is or whisper who it is to the person next to them.

Tyler Ulis is the antithesis of the aforementioned.

Ulis is not a physical specimen, he is not going to walk into a room and demand the spotlight, but if you put a ball in his hand and give him four other guys, he will earn your respect and adoration.

Tyler Ulis EARNED his way to a five-star status for his high school career.  Tyler Ulis EARNED his offer to play at the University of Kentucky.  Tyler Ulis EARNED his playing time as a freshman on a historically loaded team.

Tyler Ulis EARNED his spot atop the SEC as the defensive player of the year and the overall player of the year.  Next up, Tyler Ulis will EARN his spot at the next level, just as he has EARNED a multi-generational lifetime spot in the collective heart of Big Blue Nation.

I think what it all comes down to with Ulis is how he inspires the less than spectacular.

Adults watch him succeed to the level he has and it inspires them to know that with leadership, work ethic, and a refusal to allow anyone else's agenda get in your way; you can achieve what you want.

His peers will watch him and in the back of their mind feel a bit of jealousy to see a guy of his stature performing a relative level they cannot.

Former athletes watch him and it brings back nostalgia to a simper time, a time of less responsibility, more fun, and an unlimited life runway.

Future athletes watch him and they think start to believe that they can be the next Tyler Ulis.  It will cause them to work harder than the next man.

It will cause them to find a basketball goal anywhere and everywhere just to get up shots in the middle of the night.  It will cause them to lay in bed at night and flick a basketball in front of their face to work on their shooting stroke.

At the end of the day, he could help indirectly generate a new group of players (who otherwise would not have believed they could) rise above other people's agenda-driven limitations.

The impact this young man has had on this program and its fans is immeasurable.  We are going to be talking about him for years to come.  We had the joy of watching him in the blue and white for 72 games, but in the scope of his basketball career it should be just the beginning.

I look forward to his next journey of disproving naysayers and I cannot wait to see the impact he has on an entire region of America when he plays for one of the luckiest teams in the NBA next season.

Better athletes will come and go through Lexington, as will better shooters, faster players, and probably even better pure defenders.  However, there is one thing I would bet my soul on, there will NOT be another guy that comes to Lexington that will be able to replace Ulis.

On behalf of Big Blue Nation, and basketball fans everywhere, we thank you for the joy, inspiration, and humility you have given us these past two years.

Ulis will be missed on a level that I am sure none of us quite comprehend at this moment.  On past NBA draft nights, a large number of UK fans were watching and hoping our guys get drafted high.

However, this spring, I imagine virtually ALL of BBN will be glued to the TV... rooting like it is a championship for Tyler to be picked as early as possible.

Good luck Mr. Ulis, and we are already counting down the days to you being back in Rupp Arena as the Y.  Then, maybe after a long professional career we could see him back in Rupp... on the sidelines.

Enjoy This Awesome Tyler Ulis Tribute by John Sully