Who’s Got Next? Point Guards Jalen Brunson and Tyler Ulis Square OffPosted by Sean Moran on January 28th, 2014
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Match-Up: Tyler Ulis vs. Jalen Brunson
The top two point guards in the state of Illinois faced off against each other Saturday night in a much anticipated match-up of contrasting styles. Four-star senior point guard Tyler Ulis of Marian Catholic (IL) has a game built on speed and quickness and is currently rated as the No. 6 point guard in the class of 2014 and No. 29 overall. His opponent, four-star junior guard Jalen Brunson, is ranked as the No. 2 point guard and No. 29 overall in the class of 2015 and has a game built on smarts and a feathery jump shot.
Jalen, the son of former NBA journeyman Rick Brunson picked up the win, leading the way with 32 points on 9-of-15 shooting. After a 12-point fourth quarter, Brunson’s Stevenson (IL) team took a 55-38 lead into the final quarter. Despite the deficit, the 5’9” Ulis and future Kentucky guard came alive in the fourth quarter, scoring 18 of his 23 points in the final stanza in a comeback that fell just short. Both point guards had strong games, but it was the younger Brunson who was more efficient and came away with the win.
Both players raised their profile this past summer, but it was the diminutive Ulis who turned into one of the hottest players this past July. Playing in front of all the top coaches in the country at the Nike Peach Jam in South Carolina, Ulis went for 22 points and 17 assists against Duke recruit Tyus Jones (#4 overall) and eventually landed a scholarship from John Calipari. The offer was one that Ulis had been waiting on, and in the fall he chose the Wildcats over Iowa and Michigan State. The commitment gave Calipari a point guard who was far from the mold of previous Kentucky point guards. John Wall was 6’4”, Brandon Knight was 6’3”, and current point guard Andrew Harrison is 6’5”. While Ulis is one of the smaller guards around, his skill set more than makes up for his lack of height. Offensively, Ulis is a talented scorer, as shown by his 15.3 points per game in AAU play and the fact that he will end his high school career with over 2,000 points. He can shoot from well behind the three-point line, penetrate into the lane for floaters, and even finish at the basket with contact. His scoring skills are impressive, but it’s his ball-handling ability that makes him one of the top point guards in the country. Ulis dribbles with the ball on a string and with his quick feet he can get by almost any defender with just one move. Another strong aspect of his game is his passing ability. He averaged 6.2 assists in AAU play and dished out nine against Brunson, but also has the uncanny ability of delivering the ball perfectly to a guard getting ready for a jump shot or a big man streaking down the lane. One of the key reasons that four-star shooting guard Devin Booker (#31 – 2014) chose Kentucky was the fact that he could play with Ulis. “He’s the kind of point guard that you definitely want to play with because he just finds you in the perfect situations and in the perfect way,” said Booker. It remains to be seen how Ulis will fare on the defensive end as college coaches will attempt to exploit his lack of size, but his quick feet and hands will allow him to hold his own on the perimeter. Ulis might be different than his one-and-done predecessors at Kentucky, but he will bring his own style which fans will love to watch and players will love to play with.
As Ulis was catching the eye of John Calipari, Brunson was starting to build a national name after leading his suburban team to the Illinois state championship against Jabari Parker as just a sophomore. Playing alongside the twin towers of Jahlil Okafor (#1 overall) and Cliff Alexander (#5 overall), Brunson showed off his smooth lefty jumper and delivered the ball to his big men. In his first year on the Nike AAU circuit, Brunson averaged almost 12 points and six assists per game. As the go-to guy on one of the top teams in the Chicago area, Brunson started slow against Ulis, scoring seven points in the first half but then exploded with an extremely efficient second half by scoring 25 points. Brunson is not an elite athlete, but he knows how to use his size and strength at 6’2” to create scoring opportunities. A master at creating space off of a dribble hesitation move, he has improved his ability to finish closer to the basket. With a ways to go before his college decision, Brunson has received scholarship offers from a host of big name schools. Originally a primary target of Midwest schools such as Illinois, Purdue, DePaul and Xavier, a strong summer boosted his stock as he added scholarship offers from Michigan, Michigan State and Kansas among others. No longer just a name known in the state of Illinois, Brunson is looking to make his name as the top point guard in the class of 2015.