MORGANTOWN — Tarik Phillip is now officially a member of West Virginia’s basketball team. What that means for the Mountaineers as far as replacing Eron Harris remains to be seen.
Phillip, the 6-foot-3 shooting guard from Brooklyn who committed to the Mountaineers after visiting last weekend, signed his national letter of intent Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA’s spring signing period. After redshirting one year and playing another at Independence (Kan.) Community College, he has three years of eligibility remaining.
Can he step in and replace the only player West Virginia lost from last season’s 17-16 team, Harris, who elected to transfer? Well, he might not be the same kind of scorer Harris was, but he brings other things to the table.
“West Virginia got just a great basketball player,’’ Independence coach Tony Turner said of Phillip. “He’s hard-nosed and a great teammate. He likes to distribute the ball to his teammates and just make plays. He’s an all-around player.’’
Phillip also seems to be a great defender, something on which West Virginia coach Bob Huggins places a priority.
“Every coach we talked to labeled Tarik as a winner,’’ Huggins said in a release issued by the school Wednesday. “He gives us much-needed versatility in the backcourt with the ability to play both guard positions. We look for him to be very instrumental in our quest to become a great defensive team again.”
Last season at Independence, Phillip averaged 18.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. He shot 55.7 percent from the floor and 38.6 percent from 3-point range and was the Jayhawk Conference player of the year and freshman of the year in the Eastern Division for a 21-11 team.
Phillip might not translate into the same kind of outside scoring threat that Harris was, but he could bring a more versatile game.
“He can get to the rim, but if you back off on him, he can hit the 3 and he can hit the mid-range shot,’’ Turner said. “And he can get to the paint. He can get there and pass the ball out of there and get the ball to the right people.’’
Howard’s path to West Virginia was rather circuitous. He didn’t play as a senior in high school and spent a year in prep school in North Carolina, where he averaged 26 points per game. He committed to South Carolina in 2012, but didn’t qualify academically.
That sent him to the junior college route and he was apparently in three of them — Indian Hills in Iowa, Howard in Texas and Independence. He didn’t play at the first two schools and then wasn’t eligible at Independence until the second semester this season because of his transfers.
Phillip joins a backcourt now at West Virginia that is minus Harris, the team’s second-leading scorer, but returns All-Big 12 point guard Juwan Staten, shooting guard Terry Henderson and Gary Browne. Phillip can play either as a point guard or a combo guard and Turner expects him to do so right away.
“He’s going to figure out a way to play right away,’’ Turner said. “He’ll make the adjustment.’’
Turner said that before committing to West Virginia, Phillip had attracted late attention from Kansas, Oklahoma State and Pitt.
Phillip is the third player in WVU’s recruiting class and the third guard, joining Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles. The Mountaineers are also expected to add forwards Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon next season after both sat out this season.
“This class gives us a much-needed shot of athleticism on the perimeter and a group of guards with tremendous versatility and the ability to play with or without the ball,” said Huggins. “This depth should provide us the ability to turn up the pressure defensively.”
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One of West Virginia’s returning players, forward Nathan Adrian, was arrested over the weekend and charged with driving under the influence.
Nathan, 19, is a freshman from Morgantown. The incident occurred in downtown Morgantown early Sunday morning.
Huggins said the matter would be handled internally.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.