By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
You may be new to Shembari Phillips this fall, and he’ll be sort of new to you, and yet at the same time there will be familiarity all around when Georgia Tech and a certain two-way guard crank up the basketball season.
When you grow up in metro Atlanta, play at a couple local high schools and carve out a high-profile recruiting resume before you’re of college age, chances are that you know a thing or two about Yellow Jackets basketball.
He played at Tucker High School, graduated from Wheeler, and swapped DMs with the program during his recruiting process, although he says that he never received an offer to play at Tech.
That changed as he wrapped up his sophomore season in 2017 at Tennessee with an injured knee and a head coach who did not recruit him.
“To be honest, I knew I wanted to come to Tech as soon as I reopened my recruitment,” Phillips said. “They reached out, and it was a blessing. I wanted to come back home, and it was the first place I wanted to go. Coach [Josh] Pastner and his staff reached out and it was great. I was all smiles.”
Tech will be a little less busy in the backcourt when workouts resume next month, a few weeks after fall semester classes begin Aug. 20, yet the Jackets may be deeper on game days.
Josh Okogie left school after two years upon being drafted by the NBA’s Minnesota’s Timberwolves, Tadric Jackson graduated and Justin Moore transferred.
So, let’s look at the backfill plan.
The Jackets welcome highly-regarded freshman guard Michael Devoe, one of the nation’s top 50 high school prospects last spring regardless of position and the most highly-ranked recruit of the Pastner era, and add Phillips, who spent the past school year on the bench per NCAA regulations following his transfer from Tennessee.
There, joining sophomores Jose Alvarado, Curtis Haywood II and graduate student Brandon Alston, is Tech’s backcourt.
For all intents and purposes, Pastner deployed five guards last year although only two of them played clearly-defined roles.
Alvarado was a point guard, starting every game before his season-ending left elbow injury, and Haywood found himself at shooting guard before his season was interrupted twice by a stress reaction in his right leg that ultimately ended his season.
Okogie played shooting guard and small forward, Alston played both guard positions and small forward, Jackson played shooting guard and small forward.
“Shembari is going to have to be good for us,” Pastner said. “Shembari was awesome on scout team last year, but . . . there’s no pressure on you on scout team.”
Phillips considers himself out from under pressure.
He wrenched a knee late in his sophomore season at Tennessee, and spent his first couple months last summer at Tech in rehabilitation for torn cartilage. Then, he battled a sprained wrist early this summer.
That’s all in the past now, and he’s looking to get back to playing ball, preferably more like he did as a high school player, when he was a McDonald’s All-American nominee.
Back in those says, he did everything well, helping the Wheeler Wildcats to the 2015 state championship game.
Then, he landed at Tennessee after being recruited to Old Rocky Top by the staff of Donnie Tyndall, a one-year head coach coming off the bridge year between Cuonzo Martin and current coach Rick Barnes.
Phillips started 24 games in two seasons, and played in 64. His 3-point shooting numbers were good. He was good on 36.8 percent as a freshman, and then 37.5 as a sophomore. Elsewhere as a scorer, Phillips found little traction with a 41 percent shooting percentage.
Pastner will be happy with the fact that Phillips jacked up his rebounding numbers to 3.1 per game as a sophomore in 20.1 minutes per game, because Tech’s head coach values greatly his guards hitting the boards.
Phillips doesn’t seem to care much about numbers; he just wants to run no matter his position. With all of his work ball-handling skills in the past year with the idea that Pastner is looking for multi-talented players vs. singular skill sets, he just wants to run.
“I can play the on-ball, I can play the off-ball, so what [Josh Okogie] was great at was the motor. So everybody has to pick it up, rebound, get loose balls, just do things that you can’t teach, just play with a high motor.
“I play with a motor, rebound the ball with my size at the position. Being one of the older guys on the team this year, I’m just trying to be a leader; just being there for everybody. I think [the offense will] be a lot better. [Pastner] wants to implement a dribble-drive offense, and really get guys moving, letting us play a little bit.”