Phillips won't turn his back on teammates, Baugo Township

Jimtown's Preston Phillips drives to the basket in a victory over South Bend St. Joseph during the 2018-19 high school basketball season.

Winning a state title in Indiana used to be the ultimate thrill for high school basketball players from Angola to Evansville.

It made Scott Skiles a legend. Cemented the legacy of Damon Bailey. And built a life for Bobby Plump.

But in a world where summer schedules are filled with AAU basketball games and the lure of a chance at playing on national television seems to mean more than competing for your classmates, what does a state basketball title mean for the top players in Indiana?

More than beating your buddy in Fortnite? Becoming prom king? Driving the best car in the student parking lot?

And no, this has nothing to do with class basketball ... This would be going on if Indiana still decided a one-class champion.

The issue came up again last week, when Marian High School star Jaden Ivey announced he would be attending LaLumiere High School this year, rather than playing for a Knights team that may have competed for a Class 3A state title. With LaLumiere being a non-IHSAA private school, Ivey also won't be eligible to win Mr. Basketball in Indiana this year.

Don't get me wrong, LaLumiere plays an elite schedule, as the Lakers travel around the country to play the best high school teams in America. Two years ago, LaLumiere was crowned the national champion, before finishing as the runner-up in the spring of 2019.

Prior to last season, Keion Brooks, a potential Mr. Basketball from Fort Wayne, decided to go to LaLumiere for his senior year, just as Ivey has done this year.

Will they play great competition? Sure. Am I saying it's a terrible thing to go to a prep school like LaLumiere? Of course not.

Is it a trend that makes me crazy? You bet.

That leads me to Jimtown High School's Preston Phillips.

Phillips helped lead Jimtown to a 13-10 record last season and was named second-team All-Area by The Elkhart Truth. A solid all-around player, Phillips could have a breakout senior season for coach Matt Schauss.

And yes, Preston Phillips will be a Jimmie this fall.

After a strong game against defending state champion (Class 3A) Culver Academy in a sectional loss last season, there was talk of Phillips possibly going to a prep school this fall. The whispers grew louder when he played with Culver Academies' Deontae Craig in AAU competition this summer.

Phillips once played basketball with Craig when they were both very young and living in Fort Wayne. After the sectional game with Culver Academy, Craig's AAU coach offered Preston a spot on the team without ever seeing him play, based on film and calls with Culver Academy coach Mark Galloway and Craig's father, Deon Craig.

But as for turning his back on Baugo Township and attending a prep school, Phillips would have nothing of it.

"I love the culture at Jimtown and how everyone knows everyone,'' Phillips said. "It's a great school and I like the community a lot. Plus, I feel that I owe a lot to my teammates ... we've been playing together since the second or third grade and I want to finish my career with them. I guess I'm just a small-town guy.

"I understand why people would go to a prep school, but I feel that if you're really good enough you can be recognized anywhere you play. I just prefer to play for Jimtown.''

Julie Phillips, Preston's mom, may have summed up her son best.

"He has such a strong set of values,'' Julie Phillips said. "He is an old soul mixed with a kid who wants to have fun and not worry about the off-court stuff.''

Preston Phillips knows the long trips and hot summer days with his AAU team will serve him well when high school basketball practice kicks off on Nov. 11.

"The competitiveness and physicality were way different than high school,'' Phillips said. "I think it will help me a lot taking the ball strong and finishing at the rim. Also, when to take over as a leader. I'm not a big talker on the court, but I feel that I can lead our team. Last year, it was more of a group effort, but as a senior this year, I'll be a lot more confident.''

Phillips is playing tennis this fall and is all-in for what is becoming a strong Jimtown program. However, he will admit to looking ahead to the upcoming basketball season.

"I am excited and really psyched for basketball, even though my focus right now is on tennis,'' Phillips admitted. "Our conference (Northern Indiana Conference) and sectional is tough, but with Jaden at LaLumiere, the sectional isn't quite as strong and it gives us an even better chance at winning.''

Phillips will be just 17 when he graduates next spring, so a year at a prep school prior to college would be an option. But for now, the talented southpaw isn't worried.

"I'm just keeping all my options open,'' Phillips said. "Honestly, whatever happens next year will be great. But I'm really not looking that far ahead.''

Ken Fox is the sports editor of the Elkhart Truth. You may reach him at kfox@elkharttruth.com or @KenFoxTruth on Twitter.

 

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