Tribune/WGN-Ch. 9 Athlete of the Month | Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis

Travis Walton experienced the evolution of Marian Catholic junior point guard Tyler Ulis' game last summer.

Walton, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 while at Michigan State, spent several hours working out with his cousin at the Lima, Ohio, YMCA.

Ulis finally started to put those tutoring sessions from years past to good use against his mentor. The 6-foot-2 Walton, MSU's all-time leader in games played with 143, had never lost to the 5-8 Ulis during their regular "King of the Court Cut-Throat" sessions.

"Our games are pretty physical," Walton said. "We go at it, especially when it's close to the end. There's no fouls. It's hard ball. It's very hard for me to guard him. He's really quick and shifty and can shoot. I can't check him."

Walton became another victim in what rapidly is becoming the "Year of Ulis," the Tribune/WGN-Ch. 9 Preps Plus Athlete of the Month for December.

"He won the last time we played," said Walton, one of three three-year captains in MSU history. "It was the first time he ever got me. I definitely saw the improvement over the summer."

Ulis is averaging 24 points, 4.9 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game and is shooting 41 percent on 3-pointers this season. He first savored beating Walton after countless beatdowns during his regular visits to his mother's home in Lima.

"I was feeling pretty good about myself that day," Ulis said. "I gave Travis a hard time about that. Travis talks a lot of smack. If I can I do good against Travis, I knew that I could go against anybody in high school."

The right track

Born in Southfield, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, Tyler Ulis first established himself on the AAU track circuit throughout Ohio. He dominated in the 800 and 1,500 meters from ages 8-12. But he quit track to focus on his first love — basketball.

"We had probably gotten Tyler about 75 basketballs when he was younger," said his father, James Ulis, a District Store Director for Nike. "He would take and lose his basketball everywhere, half of them in gyms throughout the Midwest."

After his family moved to Matteson before his freshman year, Ulis received a rapid promotion to the varsity.

Marian Catholic coach Mike Taylor decided to start the then-5-3 Ulis in the season opener against Mount Carmel, which was led by point guard Tracy Abrams, now a sophomore starter for No. 12 Illinois.

"I really didn't know who Tracy was at that time," Ulis said. "I guarded Tracy for a couple of plays. He looked at the crowd a couple of times and said something about me being too little."

Staying put

Ulis' reputation, though, started growing at a faster rate than his height. That led to thoughts of a transfer to a more established hoops school, until he had a talk with his father.

"My freshman year I thought about (transferring) a lot," Ulis said. "A lot of people talked to me about transferring. I felt like if I left my team and friends, that would be a coward way."

Coming off a strong summer following his sophomore season, Ulis' confidence has soared. He put on a dazzling exhibition at the McDipper Tournament, leading the No. 5 Spartans (15-1) to their first tourney title in their 37th appearance. Ulis scored 29 points in the championship game against defending champion Bloom to earn the tourney MVP honors.

"Nobody expected us to be winning, so this feels good," Ulis said.

Ulis, who took an official visit to Oregon State last weekend, has scholarship offers from Colorado State, DePaul, Iowa, Loyola, Northern Illinois and Oregon State. His true point guard skills, slick ballhandling, quick hands, shooting and intelligence are drawing interest from numerous high-major Division I schools.

"He can play at high Division I level in college," Walton said. "He's small, but he's like a Dee Brown with his leadership. He can do it all and he makes the players around him better. This year, he's added the scoring. I used to always tell him, 'Tyler, shoot the ball.' "

Tyler Ulis file

High school: Marian Catholic.

Class: Junior.

College: Undecided.

December numbers: 22.2 points, 5.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 steals in nine games.

FYI: Another one of Ulis' cousins, Shareese Ulis, played point guard for Cincinnati from 2009-2011. She was a two-time Toledo Blade Player of the Year after scoring 1,211 career points at Toledo Waite High School.

He said it: "He does something in practice or a game every day that raises your eyebrows. It's a treat to watch him every day. He's a special breed. We design things to his strengths and work from that. The challenge is to give him different ways to manipulate a defense. He's the definition of a point guard. He has great ball skills. — Marian Catholic coach Mike Taylor.

'Instant Replay'

Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis will be featured during a segment on WGN-Ch. 9's "Instant Replay" at 9:40 p.m. Sunday. If you miss it, watch the video Monday at

2012-13 Athletes of the Month

September: Justin Jackson, Glenbard North, football.

October: Chris James, Notre Dame, football.

November: Olivia Smoliga, Glenbrook South, swimming.

December: Tyler Ulis, Marian Catholic, basketball.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Bold predictions for Lolla 2015

    Bold predictions for Lolla 2015

    The Lolla schedule is sort of like the NCAA tournament: there are millions of possible combinations, and it’s anyone’s guess what the winning picks will be. With that in mind, we make some bold predictions about how this year’s fest (returning to Grant Park Fri.-Sun.) will turn out. Breakout artist...

  • 2010 killing of Chicago cop detailed at trial; man claims self-defense

    2010 killing of Chicago cop detailed at trial; man claims self-defense

    The man on trial in the killing of Chicago police Officer Thor Soderberg hated police and surprised the officer as he changed out of his uniform at shift end and placed his duty belt down, a Cook County prosecutor alleged Monday.

  • Aldermen to hold hearing on untested rape kits

    Aldermen to hold hearing on untested rape kits

    Chicago aldermen on Monday called on police officials to provide information on how quickly rape kits are being tested by the state crime lab, part of a largely symbolic effort to determine whether a large backlog is hampering work to apprehend rapists.

  • Alderman's 'Chi-raq' criticism falls flat

    Alderman's 'Chi-raq' criticism falls flat

    A South Side alderman's effort to tweak filmmaker Spike Lee for using "Chi-raq" as the title for a movie about Chicago violence fell flat Monday with his colleagues.

  • ComEd to hold energy fairs to help low-income customers

    ComEd to hold energy fairs to help low-income customers

    Commonwealth Edison will hold energy fairs at satellite locations across the region Monday in order to get money to thousands of people struggling to pay their electricity bills in northern Illinois.

  • PAWS Chicago "Muttshots!"

    PAWS Chicago "Muttshots!"

    These adorable pups are on the loose looking for a place to call home. They have a warrant out for their arrest. Their crime? Being irresistibly cute and cuddly. If you're interested in adopting any of these dogs, please visit for more information.