There’s that contrived quote about the best steel being forged in the hottest fires, and perhaps Phillip has found his fuel in the test kitchen that will be Bob Huggins’ practice playground leading up to the three-game Bahamas trip in mid-August. The junior, a Brooklyn native, comes off a solid sophomore season highlighted by his game-clinching three-pointer with 28 seconds left against home state foe Buffalo in what’s now the NCAA Tournament’s second round.
Phillip, who averaged just 4.1 points and a handful of boards and assists last season, played arguably his best game in a career-best 130-point effort at No. 9 Kansas in the No. 20 Mountaineers’ overtime defeat. That contest, which showcased some of his ball handling and a dose of shooting and ability to get to the line and convert, also served to boost his own confidence that he could play at the highest of collegiate levels. Now, the next task is to take the open reigns of WVU’s most primary of offseason concerns in replacing the combination of Staten and Browne.
“He’s asking me to be the point guard of the team, so I just have to continue to get guys involved, know where guys like the ball,” Phillip said of Huggins. “Know the offense to a ‘T.’ I learned the offense last year with (Staten) and watching film. We all know he had it down.”
So much so that he started every game and led West Virginia in points and assists. With fellow guards like Jevon Carter, Jaysean Paige and Daxter Miles joined by a trio of newcomers, Phillip doesn’t figure to need to provide anywhere near that much firepower. But he will need to better utilize his somewhat varied skillsets in scanning the floor and reading defenses in getting WVU into the best looks out of its motion sets – while doing so with five less seconds on the shot clock this season.
“Making good decisions with the basketball,” Paige said of WVU’s expectations. “Us losing our top point guards last year, we need somebody to come in and fill the role. We are looking for him to make good decisions and be the floor general. The point guard is one of the hardest positions on the floor. So it’s working to be a leader and working to get people involved. Don’t take any moments for granted, play every game like it’s your last and just work hard and don’t take any days off.
Thus far, just a few practices into the prep for the Bahamas trip, Phillip seems comfortable in the role. That the Mountaineers will try and squeeze just as much out of its press, and thus not be required to operate in the halfcourt as much as some teams, will aid in the easing into the position, as will a sizeable 6-3, 185-pound frame that would seem to be able to hold up better than that of the lesser-statured Staten or Browne.
“This is way better than last time, I’ll say that,” Phillip said in comparing his abilities and knowledge of the game at this level to the 2014-15 season. “We try to compete at a high level every day. (Now) I got a year under my belt so I know what to expect. I wouldn’t say surprises from last year, but there was uncertainty.”
Phillip listed his perimeter shot, like that which bounced Buffalo and set up a beating of Maryland to reach the Sweet 16, as among the biggest of areas for improvement. He shot 49.6 percent from the field, but just 21.4 from three-point range on a six of 28 effort. Still, those numbers aren’t far off Staten’s six for 24 from three over his first two seasons, and merely a slight betterment of that would go a long way in alleviating some pressures off Devin Williams on the inside, especially with the possibility of Brandon Watkins needing a redshirt season because of his recovery from a knee injury. BlueGoldNews.com will continue to have more from WVU’s basketball workouts, and from the Bahamas trip, as the preseason progresses.