June 6, 1997
Columbia coach lands Ugolyn
By Brian Koonz
RIDGEFIELD _ Tyler Ugolyn never doubted his ability, his gift. ven when mononucleosis spread doubt on Ugolyn's future, he did not surrender his dream. Basketball was Ugolyn's promise, his passport to college. So when it came time for Ugolyn to pick a school, everything had to be considered, from time on the court to time in the library.
With a 3.6 grade point average at Ridgefield High, Ugolyn wanted a good education, too. The Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference gave Ugolyn the stage to showcase his 6-foot-6 game. The rest, of course, was up to him.
The Ivy League became the easy choice. Picking between Columbia and Cornell, however, required some more thought _ until Ugolyn shook hands with Columbia coach Armond Hill, a former Atlanta Hawk and a Princeton graduate.
All of a sudden, Ugolyn could not imagine playing anywhere else but Columbia. Ugolyn made his decision back in March, before he had even visited Columbia's campus in Manhattan.
``Coach Hill made my decision a lot easier. He was the best coach that I saw,'' Ugolyn said last night. ``When I visited the campus, I just loved it. Cornell was OK, but it was too rural. The kids were boring.''
Ugolyn, 18, loved the urban life of Columbia. And yet, he may have to wait a year or two to appreciate it.
Although the Lions were just 6-20, 1-13 in the Ivy League this past season, the Ivy League has produced NBA talent, from Hill to Houston Rockets guard Matt Maloney, a 1995 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.
``They basically told me that I have to prove myself. I'll probably play small forward, but I don't know how much time I'll get,'' Ugolyn said. ``I just want to work hard and help the team win however I can.''
Ugolyn is not afraid of challenges. As a junior at Ridgefield, Ugolyn averaged 20 points per game. He couldn't wait to launch his senior year until mononucleosis changed everything; Ugolyn was devastated.
Ugolyn spent last summer at home, instead of criss-crossing the country in AAU tournaments. He was all but invisible to college coaches, a cruel fate for a high school athlete with Division I dreams.
``The hardest part was just getting seen,'' Ugolyn recalled. ``And then once the (Ridgefield) season began, I got off to a pretty slow start.
``Because of the mono, I really didn't play as well as I could until the second half of the year,'' Ugolyn said. ``But I knew a lot of people had seen me the year before, so I wasn't discouraged; I was confident.''
The numbers indicate Ugolyn fell off his 1995-96 production. Ugolyn averaged 16.7 points this season, but he still finished as the area's fourth-leading scorer. The shots weren't falling so easily anymore, but Ugolyn seemed to coax points.
All at once, Ugolyn and Ridgefield were mirror-images. Frustration grew with every miss and every loss, but no one ever quit here.
The Tigers finished 3-17, but played Harding-Bridgeport, then the top-ranked team in the state, down to the buzzer before losing. Ugolyn, meanwhile, finished with Columbia.
``After his junior year, I told Tyler the Ivy League would be a great place for him,'' Ridgefield coach Al Trimpert said. ``I've always thought an education was more important.
``Tyler just had a disappointing shooting year. I know it bothered him, but Tyler never let it affect his attitude,'' said Trimpert. ``He's a hard worker, but he's also a realist. I don't think there's any dreams of a basketball career after this, so he should go for the best education.''
Basketball is important to Ugolyn, but it is not everything. He hopes to study business at Columbia. It will be one more test for Ugolyn, the player who once held his ground against University of Connecticut blue-chipper Edmund Saunders, of Holy Cross High in Waterbury.
``Two years ago at Connecticut College, he was actually guarding me and I had a pretty good game,'' Ugolyn said. ``It was fun. I've always liked to play the best players _ to see how I measure up. Now I know.''