PLANO – Eric Phillips kept shooting, even though almost every shot he took during the first two games of the Plano Christmas Classic clanked off the rim.
The Hinckley-Big Rock junior made just 1 of 14 3-pointers against Newark and Lisle, so he took to his family’s barn with his father Dec. 27, the day after the Lisle game, and attempted shot after shot on the hoop inside, focusing on keeping his elbow in and looking at the rim.
When game time rolled around against Sandwich later that day, he knocked down 7 of 14 shots from behind the arc on his way to a tournament-record 44 points.
“My dad just told me to keep shooting and keep shooting, and it’s going to come,” Phillips said. “I just listened, and that night, I felt it.”
Phillips’ shooting prowess comes as no surprise to H-BR coach Bill Sambrookes.
The cousin of 2012 Daily Chronicle Female Athlete of the Year Kaitlin Phillips always showed the potential to be a big-time player, even though Sambrookes decided to keep him on the sophomore team last season with five eventual Daily Chronicle All-Area seniors blocking his way onto varsity.
“We talked about whether to bring him up or not, but it didn’t make any sense because we had eight or nine guys that we could have gone with,” Sambrookes said. “We decided it was best to leave him at the sophomore level with the guys he was coming up with so that group comes up, having improved together.”
From afar, Phillips gleaned plenty from Conley and that group of seniors, who won back-to-back Little Ten Conference titles. Despite his lack of experience at the varsity level, that knowledge has helped him become H-BR’s offensive leader this season.
“I practiced with them occasionally, and just watching them play their game, I learned a lot from them, and it’s helped me this year,” Phillips said. “It’s starting to click. Slowly but surely, I’m starting to get a hang of what varsity level is like, and it’s starting to work out for me.”
The next game, three days later against Indian Creek, he scored only 15 points, but he showed confidence with his two made 3-pointers. One came directly off of a crossover, and the other was from NBA range.
Throughout the tournament, Phillips showed that he won’t stop shooting, whether it’s in solitude or in a game. And that just might put him over the top.
“Eric had to figure some stuff out for himself, and I think he did,” Sambrookes said. “When he came in against Sandwich, he had confidence in his shots, and you could see in his eyes and just the way his delivery was that he wasn’t second-guessing things, so he figured some things out that day shooting around.”