This week has been an “Ode to Tyler Ulis” after his career performance at South Carolina turned any naysayers into believers. Numbers galore have been published, with efficiency ratings I cannot understand disseminated to prove that size doesn’t matter.
We get it, but do we really “get” Tyler Ulis? Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated has a fascinating longform story that tells Tyler’s story like few have heard before. Ulis’ size has always been a talking point, but it’s not difficult to overcome compared to his former surroundings.
One of the first people he met when he entered the Marian High campus was John Oliver. His locker mate was on the basketball team, and like Ulis, he had some physical limitations. The difference, Ulis’ height disadvantage doesn’t quite compare to being born without a hand.
They helped one another on the court. Oliver, a reserve center on the team, would get Ulis open with solid screens. Ulis would get him the ball, in turn making him a better passer.
“It is no surprise that Ulis felt a pull toward Oliver. Both were comfortable in their own skin; if Oliver needed help zipping up a coat, he’d ask, and it was no big deal. Both have breezy personalities, though Ulis is less inclined to draw attention to himself than Oliver, whose windows-down, full-throated, in-car serenades remain the stuff of legend. “Don’t let it be Drake,” he says. “You’re in for a long ride.”
It’s easy to forget that even though they’re amazing basketball players, they are just kids. This story paints a humanizing picture. One of my favorite passages:
In matters of basketball, Ulis can take care of himself. In other areas, he occasionally requires help. He once misplaced his Marian uniform for a game and borrowed a No. 45 jersey from a teammate. Ulis’s friends once drove him 40 minutes to deliver a duffel bag to his little brother for a sleepover, only to have Ulis realize he forgot the bag on arrival. “I can’t remember how many times I found his wallet in my couch,” Oliver says.
If you think you know Mr. Ulis, you don’t know him that well until you read this.