This article was originally written by Josh Ellis and appeared in the Kentucky Kernel on November 12, 2015. It has been republished with the author’s permission.
John Calipari has won the lottery. Again.
Although it may seem that the newly-inducted Hall of Fame coach wins the lottery every year by reeling in No. 1 recruiting class after No. 1 recruiting class, this year is different. This year Calipari has won himself a trifecta, strategically placing three of the nation’s best point guards in his backcourt.
Despite their height averaging just a smidge over 6-foot-1, Tyler Ulis, Isaiah Briscoe and Jamal Murray are a trifecta of talent that Calipari is ready to cash in on.
“They’re unselfish. They’re all skilled. They can attack the basket,” Calipari said after the Cats defeated Ottawa University in its first of two exhibition games. “You can play a little more random yet be organized.”
So how did this mega trifecta fall into place?
The first, and most important piece was snagging Ulis, the 5-foot-9 scrappy point guard from Chicago. Ulis committed to the Cats on Sept. 13, 2013 as a member of the 2014 recruiting class for UK – joining the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns, Trey Lyles and Devin Booker.
As a freshman, Ulis lead the team in three-point percentage (.429) and finished second on the team in total assists with 135 (3.6 per game). He was named to the All-SEC Freshman team by league coaches and won multiple Freshman of the Week honors during the course of the season.
And as he watched seven of his teammates depart to the 2015 NBA Draft after falling short of perfection, Ulis was informed by Calipari that he would be the floor general of this year’s squad. Calipari was going to build a team around Ulis, which is where the second piece of the puzzle comes in.
On Nov. 13, 2014, both Briscoe and Skal Labissiere committed to UK. Both players signed their letter of intent the next day, pledging to play for heralded coach Calipari.
Briscoe, the second part of the trifecta, quickly created a special bond with Ulis. The two became so close that Briscoe would text Ulis around one in the morning challenging him to a game of one-one-one, and the two would meet in the gym just 20 minutes later.
“We have great chemistry on and off the court. We’ve known each other through camps and circuits and stuff like that, so we click,” Ulis said during UK basketball media day.
Known for his aggressive play and competitive motor, Briscoe knows that he and Ulis both bring something different to the table, which becomes a strength when the two share the court.
In addition to the already deadly Ulis-Briscoe combination, the final component of Calipari’s trifecta make the skilled backcourt even more threatening to opponents.
Murray, who re-classified from the 2016 class to the 2015 class, committed to play ball for UK on June 24, 2015. Murray was the last member to commit the 2015 class, but one could argue he was also the most valuable.
He had an outstanding summer playing with team Canada in the Pan-American games, leading his country to win the silver medal. Murray average 16 points per game and nearly two assists per game during that five-game span, proving he was not only a threat with the ball in his hands but also one without.
Now the three members of the trifecta are all at UK, playing on the same court, at the same time – a nightmare many college coaches around the country never could’ve imagined.
In UK’s first exhibition game against Ottawa, the trio produced 50 of the team’s 117 points and dished out 22 assists on the night. Murray headlined the three however, coming up one assist shy of a triple-double (22 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists).
Against Kentucky State, they accounted for 43 points and 11 assists. Murray had another 20-point outing, while Ulis provided 15 and Briscoe eight.
It was evident from the two exhibition games that this backcourt is unselfish and play not for personal stats, but instead for one common goal – to win. And to win, Calipari plugged this trio into an offense he used at Memphis, one that his players think could carry them to great heights.
“When we were watching film, (Calipari) showed us that he (played with three point guards) at Memphis and nobody could stop it and he wanted to try it with us and see if it worked,” Briscoe said. “It’s in progress now and I think we’re getting better at it.”