Separate paths await two Musketeers
BRISTOL, Conn. -- Xavier teammates and top-10 WNBA draft picks Amber Harris and Ta'Shia Phillips are used to sharing. They spent their adolescent years sharing the same AAU coach in Indianapolis, Ind. They spent the past year sharing an apartment in Cincinnati. And they spent the last two nights of their amateur basketball careers sharing a hotel room in Hartford, Conn. But Monday's WNBA draft was a time to soak in the spotlight separately.
Now, their basketball paths diverge.
Harris, a 6-foot-5 forward, was selected fourth overall by the Minnesota Lynx, and 6-6 Phillips went off the board in the No. 8 spot, joining the Atlanta Dream for a few hours before being traded to the Washington Mystics.
"I was telling my legs to move but I couldn't necessarily stand up," Phillips said of hearing her name called on Monday. "It was like shock and awe at the same time."
"Shock" would also describe Phillips' first encounter with Harris -- an AAU open gym nearly 10 years ago, long before the duo became teammates at Xavier and led the Musketeers to the Elite Eight in 2010. Kevin Merriweather, who has also coached the likes of Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins and former Tennessee standout Shyra Ely, saw Harris' potential and brought her in to work with Phillips and the rest of his Nike travel squad, known as "The Family."
"I saw this tall, lanky girl walk in and I thought, 'Who is this?'" Phillips recalls. "I was used to being the biggest girl on the team up to that point. I don't think I said 'hi' or anything else, I just looked at her."
Harris and Phillips didn't get along at first. Their personalities, like their games, couldn't be more different. Harris liked to joke around, but wouldn't open up unless she really trusted you. Phillips, though inviting, was all business at the core. Merriweather sensed the contrast immediately. Harris could be standoffish, he explained. Phillips more embracing. Harris just wanted to lace up her sneakers and join the game. Phillips understood that the basketball world was a means to an end. But he never questioned their on-court chemistry.
"Their relationship on the court was how they played together. How they understood each other on the floor," Merriweather said of his former players. "You don't ever walk onto a floor with Ta'Shia and Amber and think you're going to lose."
In fact, playing together in 2005, they never did. Their Indianapolis "Family" defeated teams that boasted players such as Tina Charles and Maya Moore.
Phillips is an old-school brand of center. She muscles for rebounds, works around the rim and has a hook shot that would make Kareem proud. Harris, on the other hand, has been called the Kevin Durant of the women's game. Merriweather doesn't like the Kevin Garnett comparisons he hears because he knows how well she can handle the rock. He watched her shake one guy so badly during a summer pickup game that he fell over, left the court and never came back.
With her versatility outside the paint, Harris was able to play the 1, 2 and 3 while Phillips dominated the 4 and 5 positions. The longtime AAU coach had an unstoppable duo.
And former Xavier coach Kevin McGuff noticed.
He recruited Harris to join the Musketeers and she was named the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year in 2006-07. Then McGuff convinced Phillips, the girl who played high school hoops just a few miles down the road, to come for a visit, and she was an All-Atlantic-10 second-team pick her freshman season in 2007-08. Harris and Phillips played side-by-side at Xavier from then on, except for the 2008-09 season, when Harris redshirted with an injury.
The rest is written in the record books. Harris, the 2010 and 2011 A-10 Player of the Year, amassed 2,205 career points (good for second all-time) and leaves Xavier as the all-time leading blocker (361). Phillips, the 2010 and 2011 A-10 Defensive Player of the Year, is Xavier's all-time leading rebounder and ranks third all-time in scoring. The Musketeers have made the NCAA tournament the past five seasons. Before their arrival? Five times in program history.
The Indianapolis girls who couldn't see eye to eye as 13- and 14-year-olds became the most intimidating frontcourt duo in women's college basketball.
"Over time, developing as players and playing well together, we got past any differences we had. [Amber] and I are able to appreciate each other as people and as players," Phillips explained.
On Monday, the two teammates were able to appreciate the realization of their hoop dreams -- both first-round picks in the WNBA draft.
They returned to their hotel room as professional basketball players and briefly discussed trades and travel plans. And they'll return to their apartment in Cincinnati before receiving their diplomas on the same podium.
But this summer, for the first time in a long time, the two Musketeers will put on different uniforms. All for one. Yet ones for all to watch.
Kaitee Daley is an editor for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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