CINCINNATI -- During her basketball playing days at Xavier, Ta’Shia Phillips was sure of one thing. She never wanted to be a coach.
Phillips was selected in the 2011 WNBA draft’s first round, eighth overall, and split that season with the Washington Mystics and New York Liberty. After her professional career ended, one constant remained. No coaching.
So just how is it that Phillips, 27, is now an assistant coach for the University of Indianapolis women’s basketball team?
“It kept popping back up,” Phillips said. “I’m like, ‘I can only say no so many times before I do what I’m being told to do.’”
Phillips, one of five inductees into Xavier’s Athletics Hall of Fame this weekend, has deep ties to the sport.
One of the top-rated recruits ever to play in the Musketeers’ program, the 6-foot-6 standout remains the team’s all-time rebounding leader (1,552) and ranks seconds in field goal percentage (60.8) and blocked shots (209).
The 2009 Atlantic 10 player of the year and two-time A-10 defensive player of the year played under Kevin McGuff. She and fellow Hall of Fame inductee Amber Harris, who also was taken in the 2011 WNBA draft’s first round – fourth overall – led XU to its most successful five-year run in program history.
The 2010 team finished one basket shy of the Final Four. After another season, Phillips moved on to the WNBA and a whole new brand of basketball.
“For all that you think you know from years of playing, you almost know nothing. It’s like when you come into college. You think you’re prepared, but you’re not prepared at all. And that’s very much what it was like going to play in the league. Those are the best players in the world,” Phillips said.
“I’ve always been more of a mental player because I’ve never been the fastest, but my mental had to pick up because you had to react that much faster. The game was just so accelerated at that level. I really had to work to get physically faster as well. What I’ve always kind of been good at, I was still able to do. But again, you just have to pick it up and be that much faster, stronger, smarter at the next level.”
Phillips decided to leave basketball altogether after her lone season in the WNBA. It was the best decision for herself at the time, she said, and she had no concrete plans for her next career move.
Then she received a call from friend and former Wright State player Reggen Melson, a coach at Scecina Memorial High School in Phillips’ hometown of Indianapolis. She thought Phillips would be a great addition to the staff. Phillips relented.
She served as the girls’ basketball varsity assistant and junior varsity head coach for one season.
“Coaching is one of those things that’s very much like basketball. You either love it or you don’t. I learned a lot about the coaching side, seeing as how I had always been a player, and learned a lot about myself as well,” Phillips said.
Phillips also discovered that she enjoyed coaching enough to pursue it at the collegiate level.
Through networking, she landed a job as a women’s hoops assistant coach at Garden City Community College in Kansas. There, she did everything from opening the gym at 5 a.m. several times a week for super circuit training to working with players.
“I actually stayed in the dorms as part of my contract, so I made sure that the kids were in order over there. Curfew duties,” Phillips said.
She was hired last summer in her current role at the University of Indianapolis. Phillips is responsible for post development and rebounding, community service, fundraising and some recruiting for the Greyhounds.
The next question, of course, is whether Phillips wants to be a head coach someday. And the answer?
“I don’t know if I can say yes to that. I’m still not at a point where I can say that my career is coaching. I’ve always been a person of many interests, and I still am. I still need time to figure out if it’s actually what I want to do,” Phillips said.
She earned a degree in business administration from Xavier with a double-major in entrepreneurship and marketing. She may go in that direction someday. For now, she’s studying basketball from yet another angle.
Phillips still stays in touch with many of her former Xavier coaches and teammates, including Harris, who could not be reached for this story.
“Amber and I are always going to talk. She doesn’t really have a choice,” Phillips said, laughing.
They’ll be reunited for Friday’s Hall of Fame induction at Cintas Center. Phillips said she was grateful for her time at Xavier, and that the idea of the induction remains surreal.
“It’s one of those things that’s very real and it’s not real at the same time. I don’t know what to expect,” Phillips said. “I’m not one who makes a big deal out of a lot of things so for me it’s…I don’t know. I’m appreciative, I’ll say that.”