Photo: West End High School girls basketball coach Bryan Phillips diagrams a play as Makayla Dixon (30), Toree Chaney (4), Tyree Chaney (10), Madilyn Snead (12) and Aubrey Haynes (14) listen during a game earlier this season. (Submitted photo)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Bryan Phillips knows as well as anyone that Rome wasn’t built in a day.
The first-year West End High girls basketball coach is taking it step by step and practice by practice to build up a program that did not win a game last year to where his players take to the court expecting to win instead of hoping.
The 2023-24 Lady Patriots have struggled to string together wins so far, but Phillips noted that the team has come a long way from last season.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re getting better,” he said. “In some games we’ve been competitive, in others, not so much. But I see effort out there more times than not, so it’s a start.”
With a roster that includes three sophomores, five freshmen and an eighth grader, Phillips has been focused on fundamentals while developing the player’s mental toughness.
“My biggest challenge since I’ve been out here is them not really knowing the game of basketball yet,” he said. “My average starter is 14 years old, so most of them are stepping up from junior varsity ball. That’s hard when you’re going up against a team that starts five seniors. These girls just haven’t had much in the way of structure, and it’s going to be a process over the next year or two. More than anything, these girls need game experience. That’s good for the future, but it’s not much good for right now.”
Because he arrived at the school in mid-August well after the summer play dates ended, Phillips was forced to teach fundamentals in-season while at the same time preparing for the next opponent.
“I felt like if we had that time to grow in June, I would have been able build off that instead of teaching [fundamentals] during a game,” he said.
One thing Phillips will not tolerate is a lack of hustle, no matter what numbers are on the scoreboard .
“I’ve told the girls that they have to play harder than any other team we play. We can’t afford to jog or walk anywhere on the court, and every 50-50 ball has to be ours. That’s just where we’re at right know. There is no excuse for not giving a better effort than your opponent. For a team as young as we are, if one player takes a play off, it becomes a domino effect, and we can’t have that.”
Phillips coached the Gadsden State women’s basketball team the past three seasons, during which he put a premium on physical conditioning.
“I’d say these [West End] girls have been through more conditioning drills than they’ve ever seen,” he said. “I think it’s been a little bit of a shock to most of them. In my opinion, we’re not anywhere we need to be for top basketball conditioning. That being said, it’s a good five to six-month process to get into that type of shape. That’s what I mean about this being a process. What I’d eventually like to do is implement some non-practice conditioning like I did at Gadsden State. That way we can devote more time in practice to other things.”
A 2008 Etowah High graduate, Phillips earned multiple honors as a standout basketball player under James Graves. He received a number of scholarship opportunities but decided to forgo college in favor of a business career. Phillips got back into coaching in 2012 as an assistant under Graves. From 2017-2019, he was an assistant women’s coach under Marty Dixon at Gadsden State.
Graves, who guided the Blue Devils to the Northeast Regional finals last season, is confident that Phillips will thrive in Walnut Grove and Altoona.
“Bryan was an excellent student, great player and a great kid who was a pleasure to coach. I have a great job, but if all of my kids were like Bryan, it would be even better. Guys like Bryan make it worth your while and help you realize as a coach why you do what you do. I know how hard Bryan works and what kind of person he is, and he’ll demand and expect that his girls will play hard.”
Phillips appreciated the support he’s received since he arrived on the West End campus.
“From parents and school administration, it’s been a very welcoming experience. I’ve been given the opportunity to build this program from the ground up, and it seems like everybody has bought in. I never like to use time as an excuse, but it usually takes about three years to turn a program around. We’ll see where we’re at by that time. But it’s been so far, so good.”