Former UK star Ulis hopes to shine with the Suns
ASHLAND - Maybe Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix will be known as Rupp Arena West.
When the Phoenix Suns drafted point guard Tyler Ulis last spring, the NBA team added a fifth former University of Kentucky player. Ulis, who signed autographs Thursday at the Kentucky Hall of Fame Caf in the Ashland Town Center, said being teammates with former UK stars Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Brandon Knight and Archie Goodwin offers him a level of comfort.
“Yeah, because I know these guys,” Ulis said after being asked if playing on the same team with so many former Wildcats is advantageous. “It’s more of a family atmosphere. I knew these guys at Kentucky. It helps me out a lot. Devin is my best friend. It helps me chemistry-wise.”
With the Suns, Ulis reportedly signed a two-year guaranteed contract worth $1 million per season, with two option years. He is coming off a sophomore season at Kentucky during which he averaged 17.3 points, 7 assists and 1.5 steals per game in earning first-team All-American honors. Many NBA draft analysts pegged Ulis, 20, to be selected in the first round, but rumors of a hip injury might have been a reason he slipped to the fourth pick of the second round, 34th overall.
“I was pretty upset I didn’t get picked in the first round, but Phoenix came through,” said Ulis, whose contract is equal to late-first-round money. “I was really happy because that’s the team I wanted to play for.”
More than 100 blue-and-white-clad Kentucky fans stood in line more than one hour before Ulis arrived, seeking the young player’s autograph, which was available for $30. Some of the kids in line were taller than Ulis, who is 5-foot-9, 160 pounds, diminutive by NBA standards.
Ulis said he plans to make the best of his ability in a league known for its physical play.
“If they’re bigger, I’ll have to be quicker,” said Ulis, who at 149 pounds was the lightest player ever to participate in the NBA combine before the draft. “I’ve always been short, so I’m used to that.”
Ulis said he doesn’t know what to expect from the NBA because, “I haven’t really played a game officially. I’m a guy who’ll bring energy to win. I’ll do whatever it takes to win. I’ll leave it all out on the floor and do it for my team.”
Ulis played six games in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas last month and averaged 14.5 points and 6.3 assists per game.
While playing in Phoenix, Ulis said he will keep a close eye on the Kentucky Wildcats.
“I’ve been playing with them,” Ulis said of UK’s newest recruits. “They’re really good. Hopefully, they bring home (national championship) No. 9.”