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Marian Catholic’s Ahron Ulis commits to Iowa

The Ulis family’s prior relationship and respect for Fran McCaffery was extremely valuable during the recruiting process.

Marian Catholic’s Ahron Ulis (1) drives by Waukegan’s Kendarius Woods.
Marian Catholic’s Ahron Ulis (1) drives by Waukegan’s Kendarius Woods (4).
Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times

Like so many kids growing up playing basketball, Ahron Ulis had an early dream of playing college basketball at the highest level.

Then he was able to see his older brother Tyler do just that at Kentucky which only motivated him more.

Ulis will be able to live out that dream as the Marian Catholic senior will be playing his college basketball in the Big Ten. The 6-2 point guard committed to Iowa on Tuesday.

“I wanted to play at that level my entire life, but I also wanted to make sure I found the right fit for me at that level,” Ulis said. “I knew I would find the right place and right fit for me and Iowa is that for me.”

Iowa’s style of play and the trust Ulis says he has in coach Fran McCaffery and his staff stood out when making his decision. Ulis clearly wasn’t in scholarship offer collection mode. He could have played out his recruitment longer but decided to pull the trigger and commit to a program he and his family had some familiarity with.

Ahron’s father, James Ulis, knew McCaffery well from Iowa’s pursuit of Tyler Ulis several years back. The Hawkeyes were one of the first schools to offer Tyler Ulis, well before he became a five-star recruit, and were among his finalists before he chose Kentucky. That helped open the door in the recruitment of Ahron Ulis.

The previous relationship and respect for McCaffery went a long way in Iowa landing Ahron Ulis, who kept an eye on the Hawkeyes over the years.

“My dad did know coach McCaffery pretty well, but I’ve also watched Iowa and their playing style fits me so well,” says Ahron Ulis. “I could see what they do, how they play and I see how I fit.”

Marian Catholic coach Mike Taylor has watched Ulis prosper as a player and leader. Taylor calls Ulis “extremely coachable” and as a player who wants to be coached, asks questions and provides input. He also believes the fit is perfect for both his star player and Iowa.

“Ahron is the ideal point guard and such a good match with Iowa,” Taylor said. “I think Iowa has done a great job with their point guards and Ahron has the same mindset of those past Iowa point guards. I just think he’s a higher level than what they’ve had and will flourish there.”

The underrated Ulis quickly got over any impatience he had in waiting for high-major offers.

“As I got older and matured it didn’t bother me,” Ulis said. “I knew I would find the right place eventually, so I pushed all those thoughts to the side and found that place with Iowa.”

As Ulis picked up a dozen offers and added interest from others, those childhood goals and remembering the experiences his brother enjoyed playing at the high-major level continued to resonate with him during the recruiting process.

“You always dream of playing at the highest level in college,” Ulis said. “Being able to see my brother’s career, it became an even bigger motivation for me. I saw the perks of playing at the highest level, competing at that level, that whole process while watching Tyler in college. I saw the experience he had and that made me work even harder.”

Big brother has always been a big influence –– while growing up together and still today.

“Tyler has always been there for me,” Ahron said of his brother, who was a McDonald’s All-American at Marian Catholic, SEC Player of the Year at Kentucky and has played 133 games in the NBA. “He not only is motivation for me but he pushes me. He doesn’t ever let me settle.”

But Ahron has carved out his own identity as a player. Bigger and stronger, Ulis brings a blend of playmaking and scoring ability. He’s polished and poised with the ball in his hands while being productive and efficient. Most importantly, he’s a proven winner.

In the last two seasons he’s led Marian Catholic to a combined 53 wins, including the program’s first-ever trip to state as a sophomore. In leading Marian Catholic to a third-place finish in Class 3A, Ulis scored 45 points in two games in Peoria.

“That’s when he showed me he was a high-major player,” Taylor said of Ulis’ Peoria performance. “I’m proud of him in so many ways. He’s become his own person and player. He’s done such a great job being himself and playing within himself and for the team.”

Ulis is Iowa’s first commitment in the Class of 2020.