Kentucky Wildcats coach Jim Calipari compared his star point guard Tyler Ulis to the Boston Celtics’ All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas after Kentucky’s overtime thriller in the SEC Tournament.
Kentucky, the Death Star of college basketball, won their 29th SEC Tournament title yesterday, right before they arguably got screwed by the selection committee, and Wildcat guard Tyler Ulis scored nearly half of Big Blue’s points all by himself. The final score – in overtime – was Kentucky 82, Texas A&M 77, and Ulis threw down 30 points, chipped in 5 assists and three steals, shot well over 50% from the field (10/17), and snagged himself a cool “Tournament MVP” award for his trouble.
Coach Jim Calipari, who’s never been afraid of telling cameras how great his team is (when they play well) or how much they suck (when they, well, suck, which isn’t often), wanted everyone to know just how underrated he thinks his pint-sized guard is, and name-dropped one of the most exciting players in the NBA to make his point – Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas.
When asked by ESPN’s Shannon Spake after the game, here’s what Coach Cal had to say:
“Tyler Ulis is the player of the year in the country, everyone knows it but they’re afraid to say it because he’s 5-foot-9. Isaiah Thomas is doing just fine in the NBA without being tall.”
The comparison is a solid one, and not just because they’re both short guys. Ulis clearly tore it up in the SEC Championship, and Isaiah Thomas has gone from being an underused reserve guard in Phoenix last season to averaging 21.9 points per game this year, playing in his first of what could be many NBA All-Star games, and finishing second in Sixth Man of the Year voting last season.
What you might not know is that I.T., Coach Calipari, and Tyler Ulis have a bit of a history together from before Ulis even committed to the Kentucky Wildcats. Before Tyler Ulis signed on with Kentucky, Coach Cal actually asked Isaiah to reach out to Ulis and get him pumped up.
From SportsNet New York:
“I spoke to him (Ulis) before he got to Kentucky. Coach Calipari wanted me to reach out to him through text and I talked to him a little bit.”
Here’s what Thomas told him:
“Just don’t back down from anybody. Take what’s yours and outwork everybody and have fun with it.”
And when SNY asked I.T. if Ulis has what it takes to make it in the NBA, Thomas said “For small guys, I think it translates even better in the NBA than college just because the floor’s more open. It gives you more space to create and if he could dribble-drive and shoot the ball, I think he’s going to have a spot in this league.”
Oh, and one more thing: Isaiah Thomas just barely made the cut to get into the NBA – Sacramento drafted him with the 60th pick in the 2011 draft, which NBA fans obviously know, is the literal last pick.
It’s a safe guess that teams won’t sleep on Tyler Ulis the same way.