Tyler Ulis grew up wearing No. 3 on the back of his jersey. He’s worn it his whole life. Not surprisingly, he chose it because of Sixers great Allen Iverson.
Ulis, a University of Kentucky product, admired Iverson from a young age and took notice of the 2016 Hall of Fame inductee’s presence on the court throughout his career.
“[Iverson] left everything out on the floor. The way he played, he played hard every night,” the 20-year-old Ulis said Tuesday after working out for the Sixers at PCOM. “He was always the smallest on the floor and I felt like that was just someone I wanted to look up to and someone I wanted to imitate my game after.”
Like Iverson, Ulis has never been the biggest player on the floor. At 5-foot-10, he’s two inches shorter than Iverson, who is often referred to as the best “pound-for-pound” player in NBA history. But Ulis, a consensus first-team All-American who averaged 17.3 points and 7.0 assists in 36.8 minutes per game this past season at Kentucky, thinks his lack of size can actually work to his advantage in the NBA.
“I feel like my game can translate because the game is getting smaller," he said. "It’s an up-tempo game and it’s all about spacing on the floor.”
Ulis’ size has been questioned before, but the criticism doesn’t faze him.
“I’ve been small all my life so it’s nothing new.
“I feel like I can make it at the next level or I wouldn’t be here, and I’m just gonna go out there and play my game," he said.
Unlike many Kentucky recruits under head coach John Calipari, Ulis decided to stay in school for his sophomore season. Now that he’s trying to make it at the next level, he listed a few reasons why the extra seasoning was a positive experience.
“Just having to do more for the team, having to take on a bigger burden, and just leading the younger guys, helping them out throughout the season,” Ulis, the 2015-16 SEC Player of the Year, said.
When asked how he thinks he would fit in with the Sixers, Ulis was confident and addressed the possibility of playing with a crowded frontcourt in Philly.
“[The Sixers] have a lot of pieces with the bigs," he said. "Jahlil [Okafor], I’d love to play with him. Nerlens [Noel], [Joel] Embiid. Nerlens is a guy who played at Kentucky so, you know, we played the same type of style. The lobs coming off screens, like that. I don’t know much about the rest of the team but it’s somewhere I’d like to be.”
So maybe Ulis, like Iverson, will end up in Philadelphia on draft day. Ulis could be a late first-round option for the Sixers, who hold the 24th and 26th overall picks in the draft (more on that here). The Sixers will likely take LSU forward Ben Simmons with the first overall pick (see story), so they may look to add an elusive guard toward the end of the first round to start building the backcourt.
“I feel like my court vision is the best, but everybody loves to score and this year [at Kentucky] I had to do more of that, but my freshman year I had guys like Karl-[Anthony Towns], Devin [Booker] and Willie [Cauley-Stein], so it was more facilitating," Ulis said.
“Whatever I need to do, I feel I can step in and do it.”