POINT GUARD RASHAD PHILLIPS LOOKING TO FIND HIS NICHE
The 5-10 point guard has been told he’s too small to play in the NBA. The 2001 graduate from the University of Detroit Mercy has been told he didn’t go to a big enough school to match up against NBA competition. After playing with the NBDL’s Mobile Revelers in 2001-02 and playing overseas in Italy, France and Turkey for the past three years, he’s been told he’s bounced around too much to land a spot on an NBA roster.
None of that matters to Phillips.
All that matters is Phillips is in mini-camp with the Charlotte Bobcats and looking forward to playing in the Reebok Rocky Mountain Revue with his summer league teammates.
“I’m always trying to overcome battles,” Phillips said. “That’s been a factor in my whole basketball career, just trying to overcome the adversity that I’ve faced with my size and things of that nature. I’m just trying to erase those doubts and keep playing basketball.”
Early on in his collegiate career, there was little doubt that Phillips would be wearing an NBA team’s uniform one day. He helped lead the Titans to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1998 and a 66-64 upset of seventh-seeded St. John’s. Then, in 1999, Phillips received more recognition on the national scene as UDM made the tournament again and knocked off fifth-seeded UCLA in the first round, 56-53. In his junior year, he averaged 23.0 points to lead the Midwestern Collegiate Conference and was named MCC Player of the Year. Television analysts and scouts starting comparing Phillips to Allen Iverson and mentioning him as a prime candidate to be selected in the 2000 NBA Draft. However, Phillips elected to come back for his senior year with the Titans, a decision he does not regret.
“I still think about that, but everything happens for a reason,” Phillips said. “I thought about coming out after my junior year, but I felt like I still had things to prove by going back for my senior year.”
Phillips followed up with a solid senior season in 2001, averaging 22.5 points and winning his second MCC Player of the Year award. He was also awarded the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award, honoring the nation’s outstanding senior male collegian six-feet or under.
“That was one of my greatest honors,” Phillips said, “That always will stay with me. Those types of awards never go away, and I feel real good to have my name associated with the rest of the guys who have won that award. If I had left after my junior year, I wouldn’t have had those types of accolades. I feel better when I go to sleep at night knowing that I made that decision to stay in school. It’s brought me to the position that I’m in now, so I wouldn’t change anything if I could.”
The position that Phillips is in now is that of a 27-year-old, rookie point guard with three years of experience playing overseas who will do whatever it takes to make a lasting impression on his Bobcats teammates and coaching staff.
“I just believe. I believe in myself and my abilities,” he said. “I always was taught that you’re going to get your chance if you keep working hard, and that’s what I’ve been doing.
“Playing three years professionally and seeing the way the game works, I’ve molded my game to the professional level. In college, I was so much better than the guys that I was playing against, that it was easy, for lack of a better word, for me. Now I’ve played overseas professionally in top leagues and have noticed how to mold my game into a point guard that can actually shoot the ball. I think that’s a lost art in small guys today in the game, and I bring that to the table.”
It was that ability that got Phillips the invite to the Bobcats mini-camp.
“Rashad has always had the ability to put the ball in the basket,” Assistant Coach John-Blair Bickerstaff said. “He’s a great playmaker from the point guard position who knows how to get his teammates involved. He understands the flow of games and is one of those guys who is like a coach on the floor.”
One teammate that Phillips has begun developing a friendship with in his short time here is fellow rookie and point guard Raymond Felton. The two have consistently been matched up in mini-camp and formed the bond that comes through friendly competition.
“Raymond is becoming a close friend of mine,” Phillips said. “He’s a great player that did magical things at North Carolina. I think we’re learning things from each other and making each other better, too. I’m a little older and have played a little bit longer, so I think that helps him, and I’m learning little tricks from him, too.”
Felton agrees that even though he is a first-round draft pick and Phillips is a rookie free agent, their relationship isn’t one-sided.
“I’ve definitely learned some things from him. He’s an extremely great player that can really score the basketball,” Felton said. “At his size, he can really get a shot off at any time and knock it down. He might be one of the quickest and toughest guys out there. That makes him difficult to guard.”
Phillips’ offensive skills have put Felton to the test defensively on a day-to-day basis, giving the former Tar Heel a taste of what he can expect night-in and night-out in the NBA.
“It’s going to help Raymond’s defense real quick,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s a baptism by fire, because Rashad, one-on-one from that point guard position, is probably as good as anybody. He can push the ball and has great quickness, too. Those things are going to help Raymond get better quicker, to see a guy like that who can do so many things.”
Phillips also recognizes that it is not only his job to make his teammates better, but perhaps more importantly, to prove he has what it takes to play in the NBA to Bickerstaff and the other Bobcats assistant coaches if he wants to have a chance at making the squad.
“This is the most important part of my life right now,” Phillips said. “I’ve waited my whole life to be in the NBA eye in front of NBA experts and personnel. Hopefully they notice my capabilities and things will work out in a positive way.”
One thing is certain. In his brief time in Charlotte, Phillips has made a good first impression on his teammates and coaches.
“You want guys who, when it’s on the line, you know you can count on,” Bickerstaff said. “There’s a lot of pressure in this business and this game, and you want to be surrounded by people you know won’t fold under pressure and know has toughness and heart. Rashad is one of those guys.”
Now it is up to Phillips to make that impression last.
"I just feel like God put me in a situation for me to do something, and it’s just a blessing to me,” Phillips said. “Right now, I’m concentrating on being a Bobcat.”
By Matt Rochinski, BobcatsBasketball.com