Last Thursday was a special day for professional basketball in Lima (Ohio), as Tyler Ulis (Lima native, University of Kentucky Basketball Star and Point Guard of the Phoenix Suns) played his first NBA game in the state where he was born.
Me and Leiahnni, my daughter/Staff Photographer, had the pleasure of attending last week’s Suns/CAVS basketball game. Although Tyler’s minutes were limited, and he only scored two points, and they lost to our World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers, it was a major victory for Lima.
Tyler has always had the dream of playing in the NBA, and for me, this experience came full circle, as it represented the culmination of commitment, sacrifice, hard work and perseverance. From 2001-2011, I served as Recreation Supervisor for the City of Lima. It was there that I was first introduced to young Tyler, and was immediately impressed by with athletic skills and level of maturity. As a third grader, we could tell that there was something special about this kid, as he possessed a unique set of qualities, especially for someone his age. Tyler was humble, talented, coachable, an honor student and excelled in basketball, football and an All-American track athlete. Although he was a “kid”, he seemed to understand time and place, actions and consequences, respect for others and the responsibility to represent himself, his family and his community. We really enjoyed watching Tyler grow, and develop his athletic and interpersonal skills.
Tyler attended high school in Chicago, and it was no surprise (to us) that he would excel and eventually play at a major university. And indeed he did, starring at the University of Kentucky. After his sophomore year at Kentucky, Tyler entered the 2016 NBA Draft, and was selected 34th overall by the Phoenix Suns.
When asked about his experience in the NBA, Tyler shared that is a lot faster and more intense. “It’s a dream come true. However, it’s tough. We’ve played 8 games in 12 days. The level of competition is greater, so I have to study players, teams and tendencies. A lot of time is spent on preparation.” He went on to say that this is more than a game, it’s a business, the means by which families are supported, so there’s a higher level of competition (internally and externally). What impressed me the most is Tyler’s appreciation of this platform, and the opportunity to use it to inspire and encourage others.
When asked by Suns Head Coach Earl Watson, regarding his thoughts on Tyler’s development, he shared that Tyler has earned his respect, along with the respect from the entire Suns organization. He went to say that, “We love Ty! He’s going to be very important for our future. He’s a part of our young core. He’s learning every game. He does things that I haven’t seen any point guard do (as a rookie). He’s very focused. He’s going to be a head coach in our league. He sits next to the coaches, he’s involved in every timeout, vocally. He’s ahead of his time, and we’re excited about his future.”
When asked what he would say to all who aspire to play professional basketball, Tyler encouraged academics as the foundation, and then stressed the importance of decision-making. “You can’t go everywhere, do everything and hang out with everyone.” In other words, if you are serious about playing ball, or anything else, you’ve got to make good decisions.
It did my heart good to see and speak with Tyler. So much so that we’ve planned a chartered bus trip to see the Suns versus the Detroit Pistons in March. This will give current youth the tangible example of the possibilities that result from setting goals, hard work, commitment and sacrifice. Not only in sports, but in life! Yes, basketball has come full circle.