Charlotte Christian boys’ basketball coach Shonn Brown said he knew Trey Phills was special back in eighth grade.
That’s when Phills really began showing signs of being able to play at a high level, like his father, Bobby Phills, once did. Bobby Phills played nine years in the NBA and averaged 11 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists. In January 2000, Bobby Phills was killed in auto accident after leaving a Charlotte Hornets practice. The Hornets retired his No. 13 jersey. It was the first jersey the franchise retired.
And like his father, Trey Phills fell in love – hard – for basketball. In seventh grade, when his AAU coach, Derick Brewer, started talking to Phills about the importance of footwork and shooting and practice, Phills took it to heart, spending hours at the gym working on his game.
“Coach would be on us about our fundamentals all the time,” Phills said. “He said fundamentals and footwork will take you far. I guess I believed him.”
By eighth grade, Brown said Phills was a phenom, leading Charlotte Christian to a rare undefeated season.
Phills, now a 6-foot-1 junior guard, started on the Knights varsity as a ninth-grader, another rarity, and this season he has emerged as the team’s top player. Charlotte Christian, almost always a 3A private school state power, is 3-11 this season. It lost 44-40 to reigning N.C. 4A champ Olympic on Saturday at the Wild Wing Cafe Hoops Classic. It was the Knights’ sixth straight loss. It has been a tough season, and it began with Charlotte Christian losing star guard Matthew Fisher-Davis, a top 100 national recruit who will play at Vanderbilt. But the Knights – and Phills – have sought out the best competition, which is why they’re at Ardrey Kell High this weekend.
“We’re challenged right now,” Brown said. “Everybody says: ‘Well, you’re not winning like you used to.’ It’s cyclical. We’re high school. But playing these kinds of events will get us ready for conference. We could schedule down, but we’re still trying to give the kids the best experience.”
It helps to have a kid like Phills. Last school year, he had a 5.0 GPA, taking advanced classes that awarded bonus credit. This year, with a similarly rigorous schedule, his grades are similarly spectacular. Phills said he has offers from California-Irvine and The Citadel, and he’s getting serious interest from College of Charleston, Davidson, Princeton, Stanford and Liberty among others.
Phills plays an extremely hard brand of basketball, exerting as much effort on defense as offense, and whereas most players today like to try to drive all the way to the basket or shoot long jump shots, Phills is adept at shooting off the dribble – between the basket and the 3-point line. It’s something coaches call the midrange.
He’s also quite athletic. This weekend, Phills has alternated between guarding centers and point guards.
He had 15 points and three rebounds Friday against Ardrey Kell. He followed that with 19 points, seven rebounds and five steals against Olympic. Those are 4A public schools that likely will go deep into the playoffs.
“He’s a heck of a player,” Ardrey Kell coach Mike Craft said of Phills. “He can do things off the bounce and he can really score for them. He’s their No. 1 go-to guy, and we really didn’t have an answer for him. We were able to double-team him and have somebody waiting for him, but he’s hard to guard, sort of like his dad, and the thing I like is most kids today can shoot it or go to the hoop. He had a good in-between game that’s hard to stop.”
Brown agrees with all of that, but he thinks Phills, softspoken and polite, is an even better person than ballplayer.
“He’s true to his faith, he’s all about family and he’s very intelligent,” Brown said. “He takes nearly all (advanced placement) courses. He has goals in his mind. He has a few offers, but he would love to attend an Ivy League school and continue to play basketball. But academics are important to him. It’s a joy to coach him.”