LUCASVILLE — For Tyson Phillips, whether it’s on the golf course or on the basketball court, coaching is in his blood.
Already a quarter century of involvement in the Ohio River valley, Phillips — perhaps better known as the golf club professional at Elks Country Club — has spent a dozen years as an area basketball head coach, but took a step back three years ago.
But as of the end of May, and into the beginning of June, Phillips’ blood rush to return as a bench boss is apparently back.
That’s because Phillips was recently hired as the new Valley High School girls basketball head coach, as he replaces veteran mentor Mark Merritt —who announced his retirement in mid-March.
Phillips had spent the past couple of seasons assisting Gene Collins and the Portsmouth High School boys program, as his previous stops include Notre Dame’s boys (one year), West’s girls (four years), Portsmouth’s girls (four years) and most recently Greenup County’s girls (two years).
He will also be the Valley High School golf coach, but spoke via telephone on Wednesday night about taking over the young Lady Indians — as Valley graduated five seniors from last season’s 5-17 squad.
“Coaching is definitely in my blood. I knew that’s what I wanted to do once I got out of school, Twenty-five years later, I’m ready to step back in and take over another program and work to build it,” said Phillips, a 1994 West graduate. “Growing up and going to West, I played in the West youth league and from grades seven thru 12, I was in a gym almost every night. I’ve been involved in working with or officiating or coaching youth for a long time. Working with younger people on a daily basis, whether it’s basketball or in golf, is something I enjoy. I look forward to the process and working with the girls at Valley.”
Phillips surrounds himself at Valley among administrators which were and are longtime head coaches, as Valley Local Schools Superintendent Scott Rolfe was the school’s successful boys basketball coach — while Athletic Director Darren Crabtree has been the Indians’ head football coach for three full decades.
In mid-May, Valley hired longtime —and legendary — boys basketball coach Norm Persin to lead the young Indian boys.
“I have a lot of friends at Valley and there are a lot of good people in the district,” said Phillips. “I’ve surrounded myself with a great group of people.”
Former Valley standout Darby High will assist Phillips, as the Lady Indians’ limited time in the gym so far has been spent improving fundamentals.
“Our main focus for now is on skill development. We are working on shooting, ball-handling, strength, speed and footwork,” he said. “We can’t have any 5-on-5 or any ‘regular’ full-team practices right now, but there is a lot in the way of conditioning and basic basketball skills that we need to work on.”
Phillips said the Lady Indians’ numbers are up to 22, as —given the social distancing guidelines in place for summer workouts —they are working in three different groups.
“Our numbers are good so far with 22 showing up. That’s exciting. That allows us to fill full varsity and junior varsity teams. We have a lot of underclassmen, there are a lot of talented girls in the freshmen and sophomore classes. Our goal is to win every game, but we have to trust the process and always prepare ourselves,” he said. “We will have a young team, so building strength and getting better with our fundamentals is very important.”
The Lady Indians, as is the case with other Ohio high school basketball squads, are enduring an offseason unlike any other.
In response to the coronavirus threat, the Ohio High School Athletic Association announced a mandatory dead period in mid-March —which was originally set to expire on June 1.
Ohio Lt. Governor Jon Husted, last month, announced that the state and the OHSAA have agreed to allow —started on Tuesday, May 26 —ALL student-athletes to begin individual skills training at school facilities, BUT at the discretion of individual school districts.
Hence, ALL sports —whether they are classified as “no contact” “low contact” or “full contact” —will once again permit skills training.
Skills training is defined and the mandated and recommended restrictions are posted at https://coronavirus.ohio.gov/static/responsible/Skills-Training-All%20Sports.pdf —as the six feet of social distancing rule applies to all players, coaches and parents.
As of now, no summer shootouts or even inter-squad scrimmages can take place, but Phillips said his Lady Indians are making the most of the situation — and their time.
“With the COVID-19 situation, at first we didn’t think we would be able to have any workouts at all. As a first-year coach with young players and in trying to get to know those new players and develop relationships, the offseason and the summer is crucial. With the new rules now for this summer, we are fortunate (to conduct workouts at school). We have about seven girls at one time at a session. The main focus is development on ball-handling and shooting and conditioning drills,” he said. “We want to be a team that can handle the ball against pressure, will be in excellent shape, and can run any offense by being able to put the ball in the basket.”
Phillips’ philosophies varies, he explained, depending of course upon personnel.
“We’ve talked about being like rabbits and bulls. We can be like rabbits and run the court and play very fast or be like bulls, slow it down and hammer the ball inside to our post girls,” he said. “It is encouraging if you can be flexible and play up-tempo, but also be deliberate and work the ball inside and score.”
But while wins and losses and defenses and offenses are one thing, Phillips said developing relationships —past, present and future —is what makes coaching “a lot of fun”.
“That’s the most exciting part about running your own program. The relationships you form from summer camps and tournaments and practices really go a long way into not only a current season, but beyond basketball when players graduate. You see them out and about in the community and they will call and text and talk and see how you are doing,” he said. “We want to win a lot of games at Valley, but we’re going to have bad games and bad days. When we do, the sun is still going to come up the next day, and how we handle the next day will tell a lot about us. Developing positive relationships is a big part of that process.”
Indeed, Phillips speaks like a true coach —because it’s in his blood.
So too is now prepping the Lady Indians for next year.
“These girls are training hard, and will play with a lot of heart,” said the coach. “It’s a lot of fun being back in a gym and working with them.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved