One reason why Kentucky has been hailed by many as the early favorite to win the national title next season was the decision of twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison to return to school for their sophomore seasons. While the 6-foot-6 guards endured their fair share of struggles throughout the season, their play during the month of March led some to believe that they would enter their names into the 2014 NBA Draft pool.
With that not being the case the Wildcats will return their starting backcourt from last season’s national runner-up team. Clearly they’re the players who will lead the way on the perimeter for John Calipari’s team, but the arrival of 5-foot-9 point guard Tyler Ulis won’t be overlooked either.
A McDonald’s All-American, Ulis has been praised for his ability as a distributor and that’s an attribute that could serve Kentucky well in 2014-15. In fact, an NBA scouting director spoke highly of Ulis according to Adam Himmelsbach of the Louisville Courier-Journal.
“When you see him, you’ll know,” the NBA scouting director said. “He has a different level of vision and creativity. He’s got all the tools you’re going to want for a point guard. That’s why he’s a McDonald’s All American and going to UK, even though he’s 5-9. You don’t get that unless you’re a really good player.
“I see him finishing the game when it matters,” he said. “I think it will become obvious that the team plays better basketball when he’s on the court. … He’s fun. He’ll be fun for Kentucky. The last two years they have not consistently had a guard that could get into the paint and create for his teammates, so this will be different.”
As a senior at Marian Catholic HS, Ulis averaged 23 points and nearly seven assists per game. Given the amount of talent he’ll be surrounded by at Kentucky there won’t be a pressing need to score that many points on a nightly basis, but the ability to distribute the basketball is where Ulis can make his greatest impact.
Last season the Wildcats ranked 11th in the SEC in assists per game (11.2) and 13th in assist percentage, as just 44.4% of their made baskets were assisted. Granted, given the individual skill sets of the players on last year’s team there was more room for Kentucky to do things individually. But it can be argued that having a high-level distributor will make things easier for all involved.
And if Ulis can be that player, Kentucky could very well improve upon an offense that was second in the SEC in efficiency despite the departures of Julius Randle and James Young.
Ulis and company will also have the opportunity to benefit to an “early start” of sorts, with Kentucky taking a summer trip to the Bahamas in mid-August. During that period the Wildcats will look to take the first steps towards the program’s ninth national title.