Ahron Ulis Hoping for Early Impact on Already Loaded Hawkeye Roster
The bar is rising even as you read this piece. Way-too-early college basketball predictions for 2000-01 show Iowa among the Top 10 teams in the country and in the hunt to win its first Big Ten regular-season championship since 1979.
Prognosticators notice the firepower potentially returning to the Hawkeye roster. Conference player of the year Luka Garza could be back as might all-league performer Joe Wieskamp. Fellow starters Connor McCaffery, CJ Fredrick and Joe Toussaint retain eligibility as do all team members outside of outgoing seniors Ryan Kriener, Bakari Evelyn and Riley Till.
Iowa also signed five recruits in November. It’s fair to wonder if any of them can crack the rotation and earn significant playing time.
At least one of those prospects isn’t conceding minutes during his first year on campus. Chicago-area guard Ahron Ulis plans on helping right away.
“I look to have a big role coming into next season. My goal freshman year is to make an impact on and off the court, and to become a better player every day,” he told HN.
While Evelyn exits the backcourt after playing 18.3 minutes per game, McCaffery (30.1), Fredrick (28.6) and Toussaint (17.9) occupy rotation spots. McCaffery could end up playing more forward like he did this season but he did so when Jack Nunge and his brother, Patrick McCaffery, were sidelined with health issues. He could conceivably eat up more guard time.
Then there’s Jordan Bohannon coming back from a second hip surgery. He’s a three-year starter at point guard who averaged 25.0 minutes last season on a bad hip before shutting down his campaign after 10 games.
Versatility on his roster allows coach Fran McCaffery flexibility. However, there are only so many minutes to go around. And we haven’t even yet mentioned fifth-year senior Cordell Pemsl, who averaged 12.7 minutes and found a groove late in the season.
Still, dismissing the possibility of a true freshman becoming a key contributor would be premature. Maybe multiple newcomers crash the party. Time will tell.
Ulis certainly looks the part. At 6-foot-2, 175 pounds with length, he fits best at point guard but can play off the ball as well. He defends well, adeptly handles the ball, sees the floor soundly and is developing consistency with his outside shot.
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DePaul and 10 mid-major programs offered scholarships to Ulis before Iowa jumped in after watching him with the Meanstreets AAU program last summer. Fran McCaffery saw potential and that showed up during his senior season at Chicago Heights (IL) Marian Catholic.
The Spartans reached an Illinois 4A sectional final before the remainder of the season was canceled due to concerns with the coronavirus. Ulis netted a team-high 19 points in the semifinal upset of Bloom. He earned first-team all-state honors from the AP and IBCA, and landed on the Chicago Sun-Times second team after averaging 20 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Few people outside of Ulis’ circle would have predicted these accolades coming his way before the season started. It didn’t happen by accident.
“I have improved and look to improve more on my leadership on the court and knocking down the three consistently,” he said.
Ulis hoped to continue proving doubters wrong during the state playoffs. Like so many other athletes across the world, those dreams were canceled.
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“I was heartbroken for my season to end shortly, especially after having confidence that me and my team had going into the rest of the tournament,” he said.
After the disappointment subsided as much as it could, Ulis thought about the next step in his journey. He knew he made the right decision when watching the Hawkeyes rise above expectations in ’19-20, spending most of the season in the nation’s Top 25 despite a depleted roster.
“What stood out to me about the Hawkeyes this season was how they always played hard and as a team. They went through many injuries, but it was the next man up,” he said.
One of the reasons Ulis chose Iowa was because it plays up-tempo basketball. That suits his game.
“I see myself fitting in perfect with the offense that they run at a fast pace and playing downhill,” he said.
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Members of Iowa’s ’20 recruiting class are connecting. They’re looking forward to advancing that bond when they arrive on campus.
“The relationship will start to build and become a great one. We’ve reached out to each other for sure,” he said.
If the Ulis name rings a bell for you as a Hawkeye fan, you probably remember Ahron’s older brother, Tyler Ulis. One of the top-rated point guards in the ’14 class, he chose Kentucky over Iowa.
The Ulis family built a strong connection with the Iowa coaching staff during Tyler’s recruitment. That helped when the Hawkeyes pursued Ahron.
“I have a great relationship with coach McCaffery. I feel he’s a great coach and the right fit for me. I know he’ll push me to be the best I can be,” Ahron said.
Ahron feels fortunate to be Tyler’s younger brother. He’s been able to see what’s ahead all along.
“It’s great because I’m not surprised by most things because I grew up seeing him going through the process. It helps me grow as a person and player on the court,” Ahron said.