During the 2014 basketball recruiting season, there was probably no saga that consumed Iowa fans quite like the saga surrounding Tyler Ulis, a blue-chip point guard recruit from the Chicago suburbs. Ulis, a 5* PG (#25 in ESPN's Top 100 recruits), was a recruit that Fran McCaffery and the Iowa staff had been pursuing for a long time -- long before he emerged as a bona fide elite recruit. Iowa was one of his very first offers and Fran applied the same dogged determination and constant presence that served him well in his recruitment of Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury, the most high-profile players yet landed by McCaffery at Iowa.
Obviously, Ulis ended up not choosing Iowa -- he picked Kentucky and has been a key part of the Wildcats' 38-0 march through the 2014-15 season. Ulis' recruitment has become a popular "what might have been..." dream among Iowa fans, particularly given the sometimes inconsistent play Iowa received at the guard position this season. The popular story at the time was that Iowa lost out on Ulis because Emmanuel Mudiay opted to play professional ball in China rather than sign with Kentucky (as he had been expected to do). Losing out on Mudiay led to Kentucky putting on a press for Ulis, their #2 option. And the rest is history. But how close was Iowa to really landing Ulis? Well, now we know, courtesy of The Gazette's Scott Dochterman, on scene at the Final Four this weekend.
"I really liked Iowa, Coach McCaffery," Ulis said. "I really liked him, guys on the team. But at the end of the day it was between here and Michigan State because I always grew up around Michigan State. I liked (Coach Tom) Izzo. I really wanted to go there, then Kentucky came in, and I just felt like that was the best for me."
So I asked if he would have picked Michigan State over Iowa.
"Most likely," he said.
Ah, Michigan State. Door #3. In truth, this doesn't come as a huge surprise -- Michigan State was widely talked about as a major contender for Ulis during his recruitment a year ago and the lure of Izzo is obviously hard to deny. But at least now we know and we can consign those "what if..." fantasies to the trash. Even if the Mudiay-Kentucky situation had worked out differently, Ulis wouldn't have been suiting up in black and gold this past season. Alas.