Ulis joins Bender and Chriss - Tucson News Now

Ulis joins Bender and Chriss


The Phoenix Suns tonight added Croatian forward Dragan Bender (DRAHG-an) and University of Washington forward Marquese Chriss (MAR-kee-SS Kriss) in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft. The Suns selected Bender with the fourth overall pick in the draft and acquired Chriss, the eighth overall pick, from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for the rights to the 13th and 28th overall picks, a future second-round pick and the rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic. In addition, the Suns selected University of Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis (YEW-liss) with the 34th overall pick in the second round of the draft.

Considered the two best power forward prospects in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Suns were able to land them both in adding Bender and Chriss. Both Bender and Chriss are just 18 years old as Bender, born Nov. 17, 1997, is the youngest player in this year’s draft to give the Suns the draft’s youngest player in consecutive years after the club selected then 18-year-old and eventual NBA All-Rookie First Team honoree Devin Booker in 2015.

Bender, a skilled and versatile playmaker at 7-1, 225-pounds, played the 2015-16 season with Maccabi Tel Aviv of the Israeli Premier League. Only 17 years old at the start of the season, Bender averaged 5.5 points on 47.9 percent shooting and 41.1 percent from three-point range in 13.4 minutes over 25 games in Israel’s top-tier league. Combining shooting range, passing vision and the ability to defend multiple positions, Bender was the first international player not to play college basketball selected in the 2016 NBA Draft at fourth overall.

Born in Capljina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bender lived there until moving to Split, Croatia at age 12 to attend a basketball academy. The first Croatian selected by the Suns in team history, Bender becomes the highest Croatian ever selected in the NBA Draft by being selected fourth overall. A member of Croatia’s junior national teams at various international tournaments, Bender grew up idolizing Toni Kukoc, a fellow Croatian and three-time NBA Champion as a member of the Chicago Bulls after whom Bender modeled his game.     

Chriss, an explosive athlete and efficient shooter at 6-10, 233-pounds, averaged 13.7 points on 53.0 percent shooting from the field and 35.0 percent from three-point territory, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 34 games during his one season at Washington in 2015-16. An Honorable Mention Pac-12 All-Freshman selection, Chriss recorded 55 blocks to lead Pac-12 freshmen and set a Huskies freshman record. Exemplifying his unique skillset of athleticism and shooting ability, Chriss was one of just eight players and the only freshman in college basketball to average at least 10.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks while shooting at least 50 percent from the field and 35 percent from three-point range.  

A native of Sacramento, Calif., Chriss did not start playing basketball until high school. As a senior at Pleasant Grove High School in Elk Grove, Calif., Chriss averaged 21.9 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.1 blocks to earn an invite to play in the 2015 Ballislife All-American Game. Chriss is the third player from Washington to be selected eighth overall, along with Detlef Schrempf in 1985 and Terrence Ross in 2012.

Ulis, a quick and confident floor general at 5-10, 150-pounds, was named the SEC Player of the Year by the coaches and media after averaging 17.3 points, 7.0 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 35 games for Kentucky in 2015-16. A tenacious on-ball defender, Ulis also became just the second player in league history to win SEC Defensive Player of the Year and SEC Player of the Year in the same season. Ulis was also honored following the 2015-16 season as the recipient of the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation’s top point guard, and by being named First Team All-America by The Sporting News, AP and USA Today.

Born in Detroit, Ulis played two seasons at Kentucky as he was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team in 2014-15 when he teamed with Booker to help the Wildcats tie an NCAA record with 38 wins. Prior to attending Kentucky, Ulis played at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, Ill., where he averaged 23.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.7 rebounds as a senior to earn invites to both the McDonald’s All-America and Jordan Brand Classic games in 2014.  

Ulis joins Booker, Eric Bledsoe, Archie Goodwin and Brandon Knight as former Kentucky guards on the Suns’ roster. Ulis becomes the seventh Kentucky player to be drafted by the Suns and fourth in the last two years, joining a list that includes Skal Labissiere (2016), Booker (2015), Andrew Harrison (2015), Rajon Rondo (2006), Kyle Macy (1979) and Jimmy D. Connor (1975).

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