There are two types of greatness. The first is the overwhelming kind, when a person’s talent is so obvious that is jumps off the page and you know you are witnessing a unique superstar from the moment you lay eyes on them. Think Tiger Woods at the Masters in 97, LeBron in his early Akron high school days or John Wall from the moment he arrived on campus. That type of greatness is overpowering and when it happens, it is easy to become consumed by the moment. But then there is another, quieter form of greatness that is achieved less by singular acts and more by slow, mundane excellence. Sometimes you don’t realize what they achieved until it is over and you look back and say, “wow was Greg Maddux really THAT good for that long? He had a body like I do!” Such quiet greatness isn’t necessarily flashy but when viewed in a broader context, is no less impressive.
The game Tyler Ulis played against Ole Miss on Saturday night was a quietly brilliant form of greatness. His statline was impressive…20 points, 10 assists and 6 steals. Quality numbers and a rare points-assists double-double. But to recognize just how good of a game it was, historical context is needed. Saturday’s game by Tyler Ulis was only the 5th time in school history that a player finished with over 20 points and 10 assists in a game. The others with that achievement (John Wall, Kyle Macy, Cliff Hawkins and Stan Key) represent high level company and include 2 of the 5 best Point Guards to ever play at this school. And as impressive as that accomplishment is, the 20-10-6 line puts Ulis into even higher rarified air, as no player in the history Kentucky and only three players in college basketball in this decade have ever had a game with that statline. Further, these amazing numbers were accomplished while leading Kentucky to their most impressive win of the year AND effectively guarding the other team’s best player (and SEC leading scorer) doggedly throughout.
Simply put, Tyler Ulis’s game on Saturday was one of the best individual performances at Kentucky. Now we won’t remember it as such and chances are we won’t remember it at all. Ulis will stick in Kentucky fans’ minds more for his commanding performances in two wins over Louisville, his tournament success and likely future accomplishments far more than one January Saturday night in a rout over Ole Miss (who Kentucky has an unfathomable 108-14 all-time series lead over). Unlike the night Jodie went for 50, Goose had 41 against Duke or Tayshaun drained 5 in a row versus the Heels, we won’t tell our children where we were the moment Tyler picked Stefan Moody and his absurdly long shorts’ pocket for the sixth time. But the fact that it won’t register in our long-term memory does not make Tyler’s game any less impressive. Historically it was as complete a performance as a UK Point Guard has ever had in a game and watching it up close led Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy to say afterwards, “I think he is the best point guard in the country.” Well Andy, I do too. And for that to be the case for a 5’9″ (at best) Point Guard who only ended up at Kentucky because Emmanual Mudiay became swayed by Larry Brown, truly is a sight to behold. Tyler Ulis will never have the star power or overwhelming talent of some of John Calipari’s past and future stars. But when it comes to greatness at the college game, he should be in the conversation.
A few more notes about last night:
— There have been a number of stars at Rupp over the past few years…Jay Z, Drake, Magic, John Boehner, NBA stars and others have graced the Rupp stands and the audience is always excited when they are in attendance. But with the possible exception of the Erruption Zone the first time Josh Hutcherson was in the building, I am not sure I have ever seen more excited people than yesterday during the singing of the national anthem by Jordan Smith. The Harlan native of course won “The Voice” and his rendition of the national anthem was tremendous. But what was fascinating to me was to see just how excited his presence made some in the crowd. There were clearly people there who had no idea who he was, but for those who did, Smith’s national anthem got them there early and the applause for him was deafening. I had the chance to interview him for the radio broadcast and he really could not have been nicer. He was as polite as you would assume with his good Harlan roots and we shared a couple of stories of our shared mountain home during our wait to go on the air. He was clearly overwhelmed by the attention and at one point said to me, “just getting to come to a game in Rupp Arena is awesome!” A true Big Blue fan reaching a high national achievement and staying grounded by his love for his home in the process…a very cool story and one that was fun to watch.
— Marcus Lee’s mask is great…it looks a little bit like that of a superhero (I am not sure it totally fits him) and with the headband on, it turns his friendly smile into somewhat of a menacing figure. I have heard that when people start wearing those masks, it can be hard for them to stop as they grow accustomed to their protections and can feel naked on the court without them. I hope that happens to Lee, because masked Marcus Lee may be my favorite Marcus Lee.
— This was the picture of the year so far by Drew Franklin, recreating Rick Pitino’s final Rupp walk:
— I was really glad to hear that the injury to Dominique Hawkins was not as bad as it looked, as it looked very bad. Not only was he taken off the court by Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress, but he was then put in a wheelchair and pushed to the locker room. The faces of everyone involved were very grim and I honestly expected the worst. But before the game was over, the X rays came back negative and it looks as if he will fine in the long term. Hawkins has now played his way into the rotation and I hope he can bounce back from this setback quick enough to ensure his continued spot in it through conference play.
— We will launch the new Matt Jones Podcast this week and I am very excited about it for this year. It is going to be a chance to do longer interviews with people that we don’t normally get to talk to on the show and provide some entertainment in a different form. I think people will really like it. This week will have three episodes, one with Jay Williams on college basketball, one with Eric Crawford on the UL scandal and one with Louisville attorney Steve Romines on “Making of a Murderer.” I hope everyone will subscribe and check it out…it should be a good addition to the KSR world.
Big week coming with the introduction of the new Offensive Coordinator, the Army All American game with three home-grown Kentucky commitments playing and of course UK vs Ben Simmons. More on that tomorrow…we will also put out the call for our next round of college intern writers, so if that intrigues you be on the lookout…otherwise see you on radio tomorrow at 10 am.