Commentary

Musketeers have new perspective

Phillips and Jennings see things through a coach's eye after summertime coaching stint

Originally Published: January 6, 2010
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

April PhillipsKirby Lee/US PresswireApril Phillips ranks third in both scoring (10.2) and rebounding (6.2) per game for Xavier (10-3).

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Xavier's Kevin McGuff has those moments, like all coaches, when he says to his team, "Now how many times have we gone over this? So why didn't we do it?"

But now when he says this, he knows at least two of his players have a better understanding of why he's frustrated. Because they've been there.

Forward April Phillips and guard Special Jennings went to an AAU game involving some young Musketeers fans this summer in Cincinnati, but the coach of that team didn't show. So the parents asked Phillips and Jennings to fill in.

"We won the game, and they asked us to come back and do it the rest of the summer," Phillips said. "It was a lot of fun. We won every game until our last one. They were 12- and 13-year olds. They listened to us. I guess us being people these girls already looked up to helped with that."

Phillips, a senior, and Jennings, a junior, are starters for Xavier, along with sophomore Tyeasha Moss, and the dynamic inside duo of juniors Amber Harris and Ta'Shia Phillips (no relation to April).

The No. 14 Musketeers finished their nonconference schedule with a 68-60 victory over Missouri on Tuesday. Harris had a double-double, 13 points and 12 rebounds, while April Phillips led the way in scoring with 17 points. Ta'Shia Phillips had 13 points.

Xavier is 10-3, with wins over ranked teams Arizona State and Kansas. Xavier's losses have been at Michigan State, at home to Michigan and also at home to LSU. The latter loss came Dec. 30, but McGuff didn't have too much time to fret about it. The next day, his wife, Letitia, gave birth to their fourth child, a daughter named Lake.

[+] EnlargeSpecial Jennings
Frank Victores/US PresswireXavier's Special Jennings has dished a team-high 4.6 assists per game this season.

"Timing's not exactly my best attribute," McGuff said, laughing. "Because we've had three of our children born during the season. Fortunately, we've been through this before."

McGuff hasn't gotten much sleep lately, understandably, but now he'll have a few days back home to prepare for the Musketeers' Atlantic 10 opener. They host Temple on Sunday (ESPN2, 3 p.m. ET).

"I wanted to learn as much as I could about our team in nonconference play," he said. "If you were to say, 'What did you learn?' -- I'd say that we have to be very focused on our process and not so caught up in wins and losses.

"We have a good team; we've got talent. But every day in practice, I need to get the players to understand how competitive they need to be for us to work toward being the team I think we can be in March."

Certainly, the time April Phillips and Jennings spent over the summer coaching youngsters has helped them be better players for McGuff.

"We had practices two days a week, and Special and I were really dedicated to being there for the girls and helping them however we could," Phillips said. "We both want to coach in the future. We just really like to work with kids. We loved it; it's not like it was a burden. We looked forward to it."

Still, "inheriting" a team and taking on unanticipated responsibility and time commitment is not something every college kid would do. Also consider that the players already had summer jobs: Phillips was with an engineering company and Jennings with a day care, plus both had duties at the YMCA.

"The people with the team they worked with -- the parents and the kids -- raved about them," McGuff said. "I think it helped them because anytime you go from being a player to a coach, there's always an 'aha' moment. Like, 'Why didn't you listen to me? You didn't do what I said.' So now they may be a little more attentive to us coaches because they've been in that position."

Indeed, Phillips confirmed, "The hardest thing about coaching is when you go over things in practice and you want them to do it out there. But you can't do it for them. And sometimes, it just doesn't get done."

By the same token, though, they also experienced the best thing about coaching.

"It was so fun seeing how a lot of the players got better over the summer," Phillips said. "They still call us and text us and ask about workouts and stuff. I know we taught them things, but they also taught us a lot."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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