Missouri hopes freshman point guard Terrence Phillips’ name becomes synonymous with leadership before his time in Columbia is finished.
Shouldering the leadership burden has always been Phillips’ default setting, so the Tigers hope it continues during the next few years.
“I’m trying to be a leader out here as hard as I can and motivate my guys when we get tired playing pickup just to push and keep going,” Phillips said. “That’s how I’ve always been, no matter if I was a freshman in high school or a freshman now in college. I try to be a leader as much as I can.”
Less than a month after moving to MU, Phillips’ ascendance is well underway.
“He’s a great leader, never uncomfortable, good poise and a good motivator,” junior point guard Wes Clark said. “He knows how to pick his team up and lead his team good.”
Clark had started to emerge as MU’s leader before a dislocated elbow ended his sophomore season early last February.
He still has a role in bringing Phillips along, helping him adjust to college life and the college game.
Early indications point to Phillips being the most natural leader on the Tigers’ roster, though, so the squad would seem poised to march to his beat moving forward.
It’s a big reason he was recruited to Missouri in the first place.
“(Coach Kim Anderson) was definitely telling me that we can use that (leadership), but he was also telling me, ‘You already have it. You’ll be a great asset to this team with that leadership,’” Phillips said. “When I committed here, that was one thing he really wanted me to bring here was just leadership and motivation to push guys to get better and get better every day.”
Certainly, the incoming freshmen — including Blue Springs South forward Kevin Puryear, Pacific (Mo.) shooting guard Cullen VanLeer and Brownsburg (Ind.) shooting guard K.J. Walton — have fallen in line with Phillips.
“Terrence Phillips has impressed me a lot, because his motor is just crazy,” Walton said. “He’s 110 percent nonstop. … He’s very talkative, very social, and he’s the one always clapping and getting us ready to go. He’s definitely a leader out there.”
Some of the returning players also have taken notice of Phillips’ leadership.
“He’s trying to take on a leadership role and trying to get everybody in the gym, run more and just do more,” sophomore forward Jakeenan Gant said.
That’s not to say Phillips has mastered college basketball yet, but he came from the vaunted basketball factory of Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., so he’s also accustomed to playing alongside elite players.
“There’s a little bit of a jump, but last year at Oak Hill we had five seniors all going (NCAA) Division I …,” Phillips said. “Everybody that was on my team last year was all going D-I and we went at each other every day.”
The biggest adjustment might be that Missouri will ask Phillips to score more than he did in high school.
Phillips averaged 7.7 points with 4.2 steals and 8.7 assists as a senior at Oak Hill. He was more of a creator and distributor, but Anderson wants him to be a bit more aggressive hunting his own shot.
“Coming in here, that’s something that they talked to me about, saying I had to score a lot more,” Phillips said. “I understand that coming in, which is why I make 600 and put 1,000 (shots) every day. I need to be a presence to knock down a three-point shot when they go off the screens or leave me open in the corner. I expect to come in here and score a little more, but at the same time I don’t want to get away from my game, which got me here.”