The picture surrounding West Virginia departed shooting guard Eron Harris’ “replacement” for 2014 has cleared up considerably over the last week.
Kevin Punter of State Fair Community College in Missouri did not hold a WVU offer and committed to Missouri over the weekend, and Columbia State’s T.J. Dunans seems more and more unlikely to graduate in time and reclassify as a 2014 recruit.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers have put a full-court press on Independence CC star Tarik Phillip, not only trekking out to Kansas to see him twice but also setting up an official visit in Morgantown this weekend. If things go well for West Virginia, all signs point to Phillip — who originally signed with South Carolina out of high school — to commit to, and eventually sign with, the Mountaineers.
With such a hasty recruitment, though, fans are curious as to what kind of player Phillip can be. According to Independence assistant coach Grant McMillan, he’s nothing short of special.
“He was Player of the Year on the East side of the Jayhawk [Conference] and, in my opinion, he’s the best guard in the league,” said the coach. “He was on the all-region team and was Freshman of the Year. He’s a high-major guard, no doubt about that.”
What really caught WVU coach Bob Huggins’ eye, though, was Phillip’s ability to be a factor on both ends of the court.
“He plays the right way. He’s a leader and a pass-first guy, but he can score whenever he wants to,” said McMillan. “What he does more than anything is on the defensive side of the ball. He’s one of the best on-ball defenders I’ve ever been around.”
A lot of his success on defense comes courtesy of his never-ending motor, which again, was a big plus for Huggins.
“He’s the best practice player I’ve ever seen; he brings it every single day,” said McMillan. “If you put one hundred guys on the pile, he’s going to be the guy that comes out with the ball. He’s that kind of player.”
With all that praise, that of course raises the question: Why has Phillip not been more highly recruited? He has an offer from West Virginia, but the rest of his scholarships come from the mid-major ranks (Tulsa, Arkansas State, etc.).
Part of the issue is that Phillip redshirted last season and had to sit out for a while after transferring junior colleges, which limited the number of games for colleges to see and did not put him on the court until most schools had already finished their 2014 recruiting.
The smaller schools attempted to take advantage of that and tried to persuade Phillip to sign earlier in the process. He chose not to, and it’s certainly paid off with his West Virginia offer. If he were to wait another year — which he could, as he has three years of eligibility remaining after this season — his recruitment most certainly would get even wilder. Thankfully, the Mountaineers have the full support of the Independence coaching staff.
“If he came back, he’d be one of the top three players in the country,” said McMillan. “But he has a great opportunity in front of him, and we’re not going to hold him back. We’ve encouraged him to get out with three years to play.”
This past season, Phillip averaged 18.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists while shooting 55.7 percent from the floor and 38.6 percent on 3-pointers.
Chris Anderson is a full-time writer for eersports.com.