IOWA CITY, Iowa - Ahron Ulis and Tony Perkins are guards, roommates and Iowa basketball teammates.
Both saw limited action last season without the eligibility clock running. Perkins, 6-4, logged 148 minutes on the floor. Ulis, 6-3, totaled 119 minutes.
“It was definitely helpful to get them minutes,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “And they got quality minutes. There were times when they didn’t play as much. We wanted the veteran guys. But it was one of the advantages, quite honestly, of last year because nobody had to redshirt. Maybe one of those guys and Kris (Murray) or something like that. But at least we were able to maintain their eligibility and play them where we needed them.”
Despite their little playing time, McCaffery loved the competitiveness Ulis and Perkins brought to practice and games. Now, both are expected to be valuable contributors this season. “And they’re both playing at a very high confidence level,” McCaffery said. The minutes should be there for Ulis and Perkins to show what they can do. “Tony’s going to have a big season,” Ulis predicted. “He has a consistent jump shot, he’s a high flyer and he’s athletic. And he has a great pullup shot. He’s going to prove a lot.” Of Ulis, Perkins gives this scouting report.
“He has a great mid-range game,” Perkins said. “He’s good off ball screens. He’s a great defender and an athletic guard, too. He can shoot it pretty well.”
Ulis wasn’t at 100 percent last season. He played with a torn ligament in his right wrist, an injury that also bothered him as a senior at Marian Catholic High School in suburban Chicago. He had surgery in the off season and feels great. He’s also itching to contribute and help this team exceed preseason projections.
“I feel good about things, and I’m very excited,” Ulis said. “I’m playing a bigger role, and I like being on a bigger stage. I’m going out there to prove everyone wrong and compete every game.”
Perkins, from Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, Ind., has his own lofty goals. “We’re going to get some minutes and take care of business,” he said. “Even if we don’t start, we’re going to make a great impact offensively and defensively.”
Though their minutes of experience were small last season, they were valuable. “I just feel like going into every season, if you have experience that’s always going to give you a head start above everyone else who is coming in,” Ulis said. “I just used it as a learning experience. I think it will help me go into the season more confident.”
Both players shined in their limited minutes last season. For Ulis, it was a game at Rutgers in early January. He played a season-high 14 minutes and 20 seconds. He had four assists, three rebounds and two points in a 77-75 victory.
“It was a great feeling,” Ulis said. “Some games, you’d go in there not knowing if you’d get in or not. My dad (James) and Coach McCaffery always told me to be ready, that my time would come. I felt like I went out there and really fought hard, and competed.”
Perkins played double-figure minutes in four of the last 13 games, and scored a season-high five points against Oregon in a second-round NCAA loss.
“It was good, being able to play in that type of big-time atmosphere,” Perkins said. Ulis and Perkins will be expected to bring on-ball defense with them to games this season. At the other end, Perkins hopes to show off his shooting touch.
“If I keep working on my outside game, it will open up the rest of my game even more,” he said.
Ulis has the luxury of leaning on his older brother, Tyler, who was a first-team all-American guard and SEC player of the year as a sophomore at Kentucky. A second-round pick in the 2016 NBA Draft by Phoenix, his professional career has been hampered by injuries. “I’ve seen him go through his whole career, the ups and downs,” Ahron said. “Seeing someone going through the process first hand motivates me every day. That’s who I work out with. He pushes me every day to work hard. He wants me to get to the same level he was at.”