Only with setbacks do we fully discover the real meaning of life, some have said. If there is truth to that statement, then John Phillips would seem to have mastered life by now.
The University of La Verne junior has been a driving force behind the Leopard basketball team for three years now. Last season, however, was the only one in which Phillips was healthy for the entire year since his sophomore days in high school. For him, that has been quite a while.
This was supposed to be the big year for Phillips, the senior year, the season every athlete at a small college looks forward to. It was all set for him to go out with a bang, an all-SCIAC player, leading the Leopards to the playoffs for the first time in many years.
But so often those summer dreams can fade quicker than a golden tan in the winter. For Phillips, his hopes for a super senior year went down in a tumble one afternoon in the ULV gym during the Leopards’ first week of fall practice. The diagnosis was torn knee ligaments. Phillips was out, prob ably for the entire season.
How has Phillips handled the situation of having to watch his teammates from the sidelines?
“I’m disappointed, because I was looking forward to an outstanding season,” Phillips said. “last year was my only full season (since high school). I was looking forward to this season because it was to be my last competitive season. But it could work out for the best, since next year will be my last year at La Verne (academically).
“I’m working with Ort (Athletic Director Roland Ortmayer) to see if the NCAA will let me redshirt this year and be able to play next season. If not, I might try to play sometime before the end of the season, but I will not be foolish and take a chance to hurt my knee even more.”
Unfortunately for Phillips, he found out later that his eligibility will run out after this season. So Phillips has decided to play sometime during this season. ULV Head Basketball Coach Jack Smith even said he expects Phillips to be ready to play by the time conference action begins in January.
Phillips has found the going rough for sometime. While attending Hemet High School, he lived on his own from his junior year. He said that, “while the most important thing in my life at that time was basketball,” it was a time of frustration.
His junior year was plagued by a sprained ankle and his senior year was a familiar one: torn ligaments in his left knee. Despite the injuries, he was still able to make an all-league team two years in a row.
The position Phillips was in was different than most. After graduating from Hemet High in 1976, he enrolled at Mt. San Jacinto College the following year. He decided, however, not to attend school that fall and went to work in the carpentry business. He took two years off regrouping his thoughts.
Phillips decided to go back to Mt. San Jacinto in the fall of 1978 and wound up attending school for only one semester.
“The basketball coach and I didn’t see eye to eye on several things. It turned out to be a big misunderstanding,” Phillips said.
Then Phillips followed the advice of a few friends and a cousin and enrolled at La Verne in the fall of 1979.
“I liked it (ULV) because I was get ting away from the Hemet area, but it was still close enough to go home when I wanted to,” Phillips said. “It was tough adjusting to the flow of school again, after the time I had off. This is my third year here now and it is a lot better. My perspectives have also changed since I came to La Verne. I’ve turned more toward education and away from basketball.”
Even if that is the case, Phillips still enjoys playing the sport with much intensity.
“Last year I talked to a coach from a New Zealand (professional) team. That may be one option I have when I am finished with school,” he said.
The future may also mean a coaching career for Phillips, a Physical Education and Adaptive Physical Education major.
“I would like to coach basketball at the high school level,” Phillips continued. “Starting out with a losing program would be good. It would be a challenge to try and build a winning program. In any event, I think I’ll be good at it.”
If that sounds like cockiness, it isn’t. It’s just someone who’s experienced life at an early age.