West Virginia Guard Tarik Phillip Leads Mountaineers In Assists, Working On Improvments

West Virginia guard Tarik Phillip must fill a critical role on this year's edition of the Mountaineer basketball team, and with equal parts of confidence and hard work, he believes he can be the player head coach Bob Huggins needs.

Phillip, who has handled back-up point guard duties this year, wasn't always envisioned in that role. Coming to West Virginia from Brooklyn, N.Y. (by way of Queen City Prep and Independence Community College), Phillip was more of a scorer than a plate setter, although he did average seven assists per game during his year of prep school play. At WVU last year, he was something of a jack-of-all-trades in the backcourt, but he wasn't called upon a great deal at the point, as the Mountaineers had both Juwan Staten and Gary Browne to handle the load there.

This year, Phillip was likely destined for a similar role until James "Beetle" Bolden suffered a season-ending knee injury that cut down WVU's options up top. While he was going to get more run at the point, that injury pushed him even further into the play-starting function, and he is becoming more comfortable there. He's closing in on a 3-2 assist-to-turnover ratio (30-11 after nine games, which is tops on the team), and has definite improvement goals in mind.

“I'm just trying to run the offense, to understand exactly what Huggs wants, and where to get my players the ball where they can score,” Phillip noted. “I really think we can score the ball on this team. It’s just a matter of being in sync. It's knowing where people like to get their shots. Someone will be cutting and throwing it behind them instead of leading them to the basket, that type of thing.”

The junior is also feeling more comfortable playing with the different lineups that Huggins and his staff employ. While Phillip and fellow sub Jaysean Paige often make their initial appearances in games at or near the same time, he feels good no matter who is on the floor.

“Not trying to toot my own horn, but I know the players on this team, and their tendencies, so I feel like I can play with whoever is in there,” said Phillip, who is tallying almost 21 minutes per game. In that time, however, he's dealt out more assists than anyone else, showing that he is figuring out the right pass to make and getting it to teammates in position to score.

Phillip also hopes to bolster his shooting percentage (33%) and ability to help in the scoring column (5.1 ppg), and admits he learned a lesson during a stretch in which he wasn't in the gym as much as he was earlier in the semester. Forcefully reminded of that by Huggins, he has made more time recently to do so, even in the face of final exams.

“I feel like in the beginning of the season I was in the gym more than I was the past couple of weeks, but I feel like I’ve gotten back in there more recently,” he confirmed. “You're thinking your jump shot is on point for right now, and then a few weeks later it falls off. You have to be in there. Finals and study haven't really been a problem, because we have a great academic staff , but still, studying and classes do take time.”

Getting a couple more shots to fall would certainly help Phillip, and WVU, as the season progresses, but it's his role in moving the ball and attacking defenses that might be of the most importance for now. If he continues to improve and give the Mountaineers a reliable presence, they will be much better prepared to keep their offense running efficiently over the course of each game.

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