Block party: Beavercreek junior piling up rejections

Beavercreek junior Gabe Phillips (32) leads the GWOC with 121 blocks this season. Greg Billing/CONTRIBUTED
Beavercreek junior Gabe Phillips (32) leads the GWOC with 121 blocks this season. Greg Billing/CONTRIBUTED

BEAVERCREEK – A roller coaster enthusiast, Beavercreek High School junior Gabe Phillips has experienced his share of air time – the sensation of floating caused by negative g-forces.

Phillips has been seeing his share of air time on the basketball court, too, as the area’s premier shot blocker. Prior to the season Phillips’ goal – which he taped to his bedroom door for a daily reminder – was 100 blocks. That’s 20 more than what Beavercreek coach Steve Pittman challenged Phillips to block.

Phillips has broken the door down with 121 blocks through the 22-game regular season.

To put that in perspective, Wayne junior Aamil Wagner ranks No. 2 in the Greater Western Ohio Conference with 34 blocks in 18 games. The Warriors have 101 … as a team.

“I think it’s all about timing. Knowing the point of release and how different players jump,” Phillips said of the art of blocking shots. “There are a lot of different factors there.”

Height helps. Phillips stands 6-foot-8 and he gets it honestly. His dad, Larry, is 6-5 and played football at Cornell University. His mom, Sheila, is 6-1 and played volleyball at Ohio University. Phillips’ brother, Ben, is 6-9 and is a freshman on the crew team at Purdue University.

“The kid has outstanding parents. They don’t allow him to settle, which is what you love,” Beavercreek coach and 1985 graduate Steve Pittman said. “He’s a yes, sir; no, sir kid. He’s one of those kids who wants to get better. If he makes a mistake he’s apologetic about it. He’s a super kid.”

Phillips’ impressive wingspan helped him to a single-game best 10 bocks in a 76-55 loss to Centerville.

He started the season with 25 blocks in his first four games. He’s had two or more blocks in every game. Phillips’ block tally looks like this: 10 blocks (1 game), nine blocks (2 games), eight blocks (2), seven blocks (3), six blocks (3), five blocks (2), four blocks (3), three blocks (4) and two blocks (2).

There’s no counting how many other shots Phillips has altered or forced opponents to pass up.

Looking around at the Miami Valley’s other conference-leading shot blockers, 6-6 sophomore Sam Walker leads the Miami Valley League with 75 blocks. Alter’s Jacob Conner (6-9 junior) leads the Greater Catholic League Co-Ed with 84. Northridge’s Cameron Evans (6-6 senior) has 40 in Southwestern Buckeye League. Yellow Springs’ junior DeAndre Cowen has 61 to lead the Metro Buckeye Conference. Minster’s Justin Nixon (6-6 senior) tops the MAC with 45.

“It’s remarkable because as a freshman he didn’t play any JV,” Pittman said. “Last year we threw him into the fire and he had 63 blocks. After the tournament I had a lot of Cincinnati coaches asking can we get him for AAU? We need a big.”

For now he’s patrolling the paint for the Beavers (7-15 overall), who enter the Division I postseason with four straight victories.

In addition to averaging a team-high 5.5 blocks, Phillips leads Beavercreek with 8.4 rebounds and is tied for the team lead with 2.5 assists. He’s third on the team in scoring with 10.5 points.

“Coach Pittman tells me to stay low on defense and bend my knees so I can move quicker and be able to react faster,” Phillips said. “A lot of guys avoid me now, especially after I block a shot or two. They’ll start taking more mid-range shots and drive less in the paint.”

Offensively, Phillips scored a season-high 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting in a 54-45 loss to Springfield Shawnee in early January, so he can take over a game at the other end of the court, too. The goal next year is to do it routinely.

“If you watch him play, he’s probably one of the most unselfish kids,” Pittman said “I know in our league he’s one of the most unselfish kids. He had a game the other day where he had seven points. But he had nine rebounds, seven assists and six blocks. He’s the next-play guy. He’s not worried about I got 10 points today. He’s next to the basket and I want him to shoot the ball, but he doesn’t take the shot.”

In a 44-43 win against Springboro to end the regular season, Phillips passed up good looks to teammates with better looks. Still, his numbers have gone up across the board compared to his sophomore season when he averaged 5.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 1. 5 assists.

“My goal for this year was to average between 12 and 15 points. I’m a little shy of that, but I think I’ve done a good job of producing for my team especially with Adam (Duvall) being injured. Next year I think my goal will be in the same range, but be a more balanced player as well.”

Beavercreek enters the Division I sectional tournament healthy for practically the first time this season after missing junior Duval (13.6 points, 7.1 rebounds) and sophomore Kyle Putnam (8.0 points) for large chunks of the season.

Siloam Baldwin (10.7 points) and Braden Grant (7.9 points, 5.9 rebounds) – the only two seniors on the roster – have bolstered the lineup along with Phillips.

Beavercreek, seeded No. 14 in the sectional tournament, plays No. 9 Sidney at 8 p.m. Saturday at Butler High School’s Student Activity Center. The Beavers reached the D-I district final last season before falling to Lakota West 33-32.

“We’re going to expect to make a deep run in the tournament just like we did last year,” Phillips said. “We have the confidence and we’re ready to make a statement.”

The unofficial GWOC record holder in blocked shots in a season (according to the GWOC website) is Trotwood-Madison’s Dezhontae Bennett. He blocked 131 shots during the 2013-14 season as a senior. Phillips remains 10 blocks away from tying that mark.

“Timing. Gabe has great timing,” Pittman said. “He’s got pretty good feet. He works hard. He’s great at tracking the ball. What we try to work on now is keeping it in play.”

“I’ve always been able to block a decent amount of shots, but I guess it started to emerge last year,” Phillip said. “I had the most blocks in the league and I realized I could turn this into one of my strengths and build upon that.”

He has. And just like his favorite roller coaster, the Lightning Rod at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., opponents venturing into the paint against Phillips are bound to see their share of ups and downs as well.

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