TAYLORSVILLE — Todd Phillips wasn’t imitating Kentucky’s John Calipari. He wore no soft Canali suit, seven-fold silk tie or complementing pocket square.
The coach of the Salt Lake Community College basketball team was in shorts, gym shoes and a zip-up sweatshirt on the Monday after winning the national championship.
There will be plenty of time to dress up for festivities later this week. For now he’s keeping busy fielding calls and answering texts.
“The phone has just blown up,” he said.
He got about 150 texts right after the Bruins beat Hutchinson (Kansas) College on Saturday to win it all, and another 100 or so calls or texts Sunday and early Monday.
It was a lot that way seven years ago when SLCC won its first national title. Congratulations, publicity and speeches quickly ensued. This Thursday a campus-wide honor assembly is planned.
But in 2009, Norm Parrish — now coach at Westminster College — was the front man, with Phillips an assistant.
“Being the head coach is a lot more stress,” Phillips said.
The 2009 team, as now, was well-stocked with local players. This one had seven Utahns on the roster, including national tournament MVP Conner Toolson, son of former BYU star Andy.
This year’s version came on in an unexpected gust. It lost six conference games, finishing third in the Scenic West Athletic Conference standings — lowest in Phillips’ five years as head coach. Down the regular-season stretch, the Bruins lost five of their final seven.
“It was like, ‘This team can’t figure it out,’” Phillips said.
But after some sessions that included motivational techniques and scheme adjustments, hopes began to stir. Phillips told his team, “You’re better than that.”
The Bruins blew past Colorado Northwestern, Southern Idaho and conference winner North Idaho in the region tourney, then beat Cochise College by 26 in the district playoff.
Because SLCC was seeded No. 13 in the national tournament, it didn’t get a first-night bye. So the Bruins played Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, winning each.
“It’s hard on the players. It’s hard on the coaches,” Phillips said. “You win a game, go find some film and go again.”
He and his assistants stayed up until 3 a.m. each night, preparing for the next day. Curiously, the Bruins jumped to an 11-2 lead in every tournament game.
Life at the community college level differs from that with the big schools. All Division I national tournament entrants get charter flights, compliments of the NCAA. They stay in four-star hotels and appear on national TV.
Phillips oversees such mundane details as making sure the players have Gatorade, juice, meal money, etc. The two most recent times SLCC has been to the national tournament, the team took a bus, but ended up with a combined 1-2 record. But the Bruins flew to Hutchinson, Kansas, in 2009 and 2016, both championship years.
This time they schooled Northeast Mississippi, held off Odessa, danced on Southwest Tennessee and obliterated Gillette.
Against Hutchinson they led start to finish, thanks largely to Toolson’s 28-point game.
Phillips was able to enjoy the moment for a full five minutes.
“That’s when we started calling recruits,” he said.
But attracting players is always dicey. They sometimes wait until late summer to commit. SLCC attracts locals that don’t attend the bigger schools, a few Division I-level players who didn’t have the grades, LDS returned missionaries and — this year — one Australian.
He loses nine of 12 players from his championship team.
“It’s like a puzzle,” Phillips said. “Once you get a couple of pieces, it starts coming together.”
Meanwhile, in the last five years he has placed 25 players with Division I programs. Among them: Gary Payton II — son of the Hall of Fame guard — who is now at Oregon State.
“We’re in constant rebuilding mode,” Phillips said.
It should be easier next year, now that celebrating championships is back in style.
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