Date: October 3, 2009
About: Gary Phillips - Class of 1957
Homecoming brings back memories for QHS legend
For more on Gary Phillips or QHS basketball,
check out Matt Schuckman's blog — Schuck's Clipboard
Gary Phillips' latest homecoming didn't feature a standing ovation from an appreciative crowd or a special salute from his alma mater's mascot.
Yet, he didn't need either to make it memorable.
Thanks to a clever idea by Phillips' long-time friend, Fred Jewell, the Quincy High School basketball legend -- the only player in school history with an NBA championship ring -- returned last week to the scene of so many of his memories.
And it truly took him back in time.
Phillips, Jewell and Frank Siepker, who played on the 1957 QHS team alongside Phillips, received permission from the security personnel at Quincy Junior High School to take a tour of the building after classes let out.
That included walking into the gym where the Blue Devils played from 1934-1957.
"Deja vu," Phillips said.
A couple of years ago, Jewell and Siepker had toured the building and found a basketball lying on the floor in the gym. A quick pass, a quick shot and the old days came back to life.
"The place just doesn't change," Jewell said. "It's a wonderful, nostalgic thing."
Phillips sensed it.
"You have to have experienced that for it to have any meaning," said Phillips, who was an all-stater in 1957 when he averaged 23.9 points. "Somebody who is a real avid basketball fan would probably get something out of that or somebody who played there or went there."
Or someone with basketball so ingrained in his blood.
Phillips' roots in the game were typical of so many kids who grew up idolizing high school heroes, players of the era like Monzel Jackson, Bill Heitholt and Bruce Brothers. And Phillips challenged them all while shooting a home-made ball into a clothes hangar hoop in his grandmother's kitchen.
Thanks to his mother, who worked for Republic Picture Productions, which was the distributor of all Roy Rogers movies, Phillips attended a company rodeo in St. Louis where he met Rogers.
The movie star even gave Phillips a pair of his gloves.
"They had the fringe on them," Phillips said.
However, Phillips had plans for the gloves other than wearing them.
After listening to a game on the radio -- "University of Illinois basketball, Quincy High School basketball, whatever was on," Phillips said -- he would ball up a glove, wrap tape around it and use it as a basketball.
Then he'd dance around the kitchen table taking on whichever players he had heard on the broadcast.
"That's kind of how it got started," Phillips said.
It's no different than the kid shooting hoops in his backyard, imagining he was winning the state title with every jumper.
"People who have been involved in basketball or have a passion for the sport usually end up starting with something that is kind of off the wall," said Phillips, who lives in Texas. "When we're small, we can't do anything with that big basketball. So you find a way."
It led to so many great things.
An All-American career at the University of Houston. Being selected in the first round of the NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics. A five-year NBA career. And a unique distinction no other former NBA player has.
Phillips is the only person to have played with and against both Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. And he played alongside each in the NBA Finals, teaming with Russell for the Celtics in 1962 and with Chamberlain for the San Francisco Warriors in 1964.
It took committing to a dream to make that happen, a dream he began to realize in a gym that 50 years later still feels like home.