Originally published by BallinMichigan.com.
Entering Ferndale High School as a freshman and standing under 5-feet-tall, Rashad Phillips dealt with people casting doubts on his ability as a basketball player by simply judging him by his physical stature for a long time. His simple solution to that problem was making it impossible for those doubters to turn away once he did get his opportunities on the court.
“There’s the old saying — don’t judge a book by its cover,” Phillips said. “Growing up, a lot of people thought I was too small and thought they could count me out because of that. They tried to judge my book by its cover, but I responded by making them read my chapters.”
That philosophy propelled Phillips to great high school and college basketball careers at Ferndale and the University of Detroit, respectively, and helped him have a successful professional career in the U.S. and overseas. He retired three years ago and now devotes himself to his passion,working with kids at Rashad Phillips Skills Unlimited.
“What I try to do with the kids I work with is take their weaknesses and nourish those into strengths,” Phillips said. “And that’s not just limited to sports, I talk to kids about succeeding academically, succeeding in life and strive to create a positive atmosphere and experience.”
Working with kids runs in the Phillips family. Phillips’ father, Virgil Phillips, ran a program for kids called REACH, that was mentioned in this Sports Illustrated article in 2000:
"After his son Rashad was born in 1978, Virgil Phillips would look out the windows of his house in Detroit’s rough North Central section and see people he knew wasting their lives, hanging out on the street and selling drugs. He made a vow that he would do something to prevent his son and other youngsters from falling victim to that fate. When Rashad was just a year old, Virgil, a laid-off auto worker, used part of his severance pay to found REACH (an acronym for religion, education, athletics, character and hope), a youth sports program based in the gym of St. Rita’s church. Over the years REACH has kept hundreds of North Central kids out of trouble, and many of Detroit’s best basketball players, including Steve Smith, Chris Webber and Jalen Rose, have honed their skills at St. Rita’s. Now Rashad, a senior at the University of Detroit, can be added to the list."
“It’s funny, my father started his program, but I never thought I would have something similar of my own,” said Phillips, who received his degree in communications from Detroit. “I thought I would become a college sports analyst. Now that I’m doing this, though, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Phillips currently works with about 200 kids in his program. One of the aspects he takes pride in is the fact that he tailors what he teaches to the individual needs of each kid. For star athletes who aspire to play in college or professionally, he has a wealth of experiences to draw on.
“I try to stress to those kids that if they want to play at the highest levels, they have to be mentally tough,” Phillips said. “There are so many ups and downs on that path, perseverance is really important.”
Phillips’ U of D teams were a great example of that mentality. He played in two NCAA Tournaments and helped Detroit to a fourth place finish in the NIT Tournament during his career.
“I was fortunate to play with great teammates and for great coaches,” Phillips said. “We played with a lot of pride, and one thing we all shared, we played with a fearless mentality, that no matter who we went up against, we could beat them.”
Phillips also talks with kids about the opportunities that basketball can offer to those willing to put in the necessary work to get to the highest levels.
“When I was younger, I had no idea basketball could take me where it has,” said Phillips, who has played in Australia, France, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, among other places. “I just wanted to be in the NBA and have a 15-year career. But when you’re young, your mind is not as mature, so it’s harder to realize the possibilities.”
Phillips didn’t end up with the NBA career he envisioned, but his ability to be adaptable and receptive to other options proved to be beneficial.
“I always ask kids what their goal is, and then when they tell me, I always ask, ‘Well, what if that doesn’t happen?’,” he said. “Kids usually get stuck on ‘plan A,’ but usually in life, what you end up doing is a ‘plan B’ or ‘plan C.’ I try to get them to think about a lot of different things that they could do in life and be happy doing.”
Those concepts, though, can be used as teaching tools for kids who have other goals, who may not want to make it all the way to high levels of college or professional basketball and are just looking to play the sport less competitively, but still learn from the discipline and teamwork necessary in the game.
“There are kids who don’t want that, who aren’t playing to get to those high levels, and that’s fine,” Phillips said. “The program can suit the needs of every kid.”
Although Phillips devotes much of his time to Rashad Phillips Skills Unlimited, he keeps busy with plenty of other ventures as well. He has two kids of his own, he’s working on releasing a training video later this year, he’s planning to launch his own clothing line and he plans to do three showcase events next year. He’s a co-host of The Chirco and Phillips Show, which is a sports podcast on Blog Talk Radio, and he is in the process of writing his autobiography.
“When I was playing overseas, I had a lot of down time, a lot of long flights and a lot of time to reflect on life,” he said. “I grew up on the East Side of Detroit where there were high rates of crime, failure, death. I came out of that and I’m the opposite of that environment. I would really like to chronicle my life and hopefully help motivate other people who are in that situation and share my story with them to give them hope that it is possible to get out.”
Although Phillips is still interested in doing broadcasting, media or analyst work in some capacity, he doesn’t plan to do anything that would take away from the time he devotes to working with kids.
“I really love what I do, love being around kids and love helping to steer them in the right directions,” Phillips said. “I just love seeing anyone, young or old, succeed in life and do good things.”