Men's basketball: Phillips to bring ‘fun’ approach to Ohio

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Ohio University point guard Stevie Taylor stirred in bed for hours on Saturday night wondering just what new coach Saul Phillips will bring to the court next season.

Athletic director Jim Schaus announced that Phillips, who led North Dakota State to a stunning 80-75 overtime victory over fifth-seeded Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament, had agreed to a five-year, $550,000 per season contract before the stroke of midnight.

About 56 hours earlier, Taylor found out former coach Jim Christian was leaving for Boston College. His brain was still working on all of this yesterday afternoon.

“I’m still trying to contact people in our program to talk about this,” said Taylor, a junior from Gahanna. “I know he’s a good coach and has a lot of energy. I saw their (Summit) conference championship game. He has energy. Oh, yes, this does ease my mind. He’s going to be my third coach in four years.”

Phillips, 41, understands Taylor’s uncertainty. He plans to reassure all the players in the program and recruits when he gets to Athens today.

“I am going to tell the players to relax because this is going to be a lot of fun,” Phillips said. “I understand what they’ve been through. Here’s this guy from North Dakota coming in they know nothing about. I’m going to be positive. I’m going to be for them. They are still Bobcats, and they are going to play like Bobcats. This is a good situation for them and for me. This is a great job in a unique place.”

The nation found out about Phillips’ passion during the NCAA tournament. He wept and laughed during television interviews. He kissed the spot on the floor in Spokane, Wash., where Lawrence Alexander shot the three-pointer that forced overtime against Oklahoma on March 20.

What sold Schaus on Phillips was his “passion, energy, recruiting and ability to inspire.”

Being hired by Ohio was an out-of-the-blue thing, Phillips said.

“As of two days ago, I had not heard a peep out of Ohio,” he said. “This is a place where you can win a lot. I get excited just talking about this. I want to get started right away.”

In December 2001, Phillips was a special operations assistant under Bo Ryan at Wisconsin when the team defeated the Bobcats 77-71 at the Convocation Center.

“That visit made an impression on me,” Phillips said. “Athens, the campus, it had a hometown feel. The community just meshes with the team. I won’t be that guy who hides in his office. I want to get to know the students, the kids who are cheering in the stands. I want this to be long-term.”

Phillips used the word fun every other sentence.

“Ohio is going to play with joy,” he said. “You will see us have fun. Basketball is not rocket science. We’re playing a game, so it should not be work. If it’s work, you are doing something wrong.”

Phillips compiled a 134-84 record in seven seasons at North Dakota State. The team also reached the NCAA tournament in 2009.

This past season, the Bison finished 26-7 and won the Summit League championship.

The son of a hardware store owner, Phillips was born in Reedsburg, Wis. He played under Ryan at Wisconsin-Platteville and graduated in 1996 with a degree in business and psychology.

He and his wife, Nichole, have a daughter, Jordan, and sons Charlie and Benjamin.

mznidar@dispatch.com

@markznidar

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