Tyler Ulis could join Calipari in Arkansas, but he is a Wildcat for life

Tyler Ulis could join Calipari in Arkansas, but he is a Wildcat for life

Vicky Graff Photo

Tyler Ulis will make his head coaching debut next week when he coaches La Familia, Kentucky’s alumni team, in the Basketball Tournament (TBT) at Rupp Arena.

The former point guard from Great Britain was the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in his sophomore season in 2015-16 before moving to the NBA. A car accident ended his professional career and he returned to the UK for the last two years as a graduate assistant, working on John Calipari’s staff.

He is currently finishing his studies and will then return to Calipari in Arkansas as part of his team.

Ulis said Tuesday during a media conference to promote La Familia that he had “not really had any influence” on his coaching style before praising Calipari.

“Cal is the only one I’ve been so close to and learned something from. Coach Cal is, in my opinion, the best coach in history. I have the best mentor by my side,” said Ulis.

Ulis was a tough fighter who controlled both the offense and defense at Kentucky, but he admitted Tuesday that Ulis would be a little more nervous as a coach than Ulis was as a player.

“As a player, you have more control. But as a coach, you sit back, watch the guys and try to prepare,” Ulis said. “And get the guys ready. And then they have to execute that game plan and do what they can. So, I’m a little nervous. This is my first experience, but I’m excited. And I’m ready to have a lot of fun.”

Many UK fans had hoped that coach Mark Pope would add Ulis to his staff when he replaced Calipari.

“We had a conversation right at the beginning when he got the job,” Ulis said of Pope. “I’m happy for him. He’s a Kentucky guy. He has a national title. So, you know, hopefully he has something else planned. We’re still supporters of Kentucky basketball. But I have other things coming up with Coach Cal. So I can’t wait.”

Ulis said he felt Calipari was the “guy who really wanted me on his team,” which is why he said there haven’t been many conversations with Pope, even though his specific role on Calipari’s team hasn’t been finalized.

Ulis said he already knows how many “countless hours” Calipari and his team have spent “making the guys better” and that’s why he wants to “continue to learn from the guys” he will join in Arkansas.

However, all of La Familia’s players have played under Calipari in the UK, and Ulis remains loyal to his team.

Sam Malone, La Familiar’s assistant general manager and former UK walk-on, asked Ulis if he was still a “Kentucky Wildcat for life” since he was going to Arkansas.

“Oh, for sure. This is for life,” Ulis said quickly. “I have a Kentucky jersey tattooed on my back. So I wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t something I was doing for life.”

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La Familia will play against 305 Ballers, a Miami-based team of foreign professionals, on July 19 at 8 p.m. at Rupp Arena.

Tickets for the TBT at Rupp are available through La Familiar will play again on July 21 and 23 if it continues to win.