Develle Phillips was ranked the No. 6 player in Maryland by 247Sports.com and No. 12 by ESPN.com.
Oct. 1, 2015
CHICAGO -- There are times when a bit of football mentality creeps into Develle Phillips' game on the basketball court---a hard-nosed edge that served him well in his days tearing it up with a helmet and shoulder pads.
In fact, while growing up in Bowie, Md., Phillips and his family lived a mile or so from Fedex Field where the Washington Redskins play.
At the age of 11, he played tight end and defensive end and piled up a lot of sacks. He was rated one of the top tight ends in youth football.
But in the summer before his freshman year of high school, Phillips grew from just under 6-feet tall to about 6-7 and started concentrating on basketball.
"I was really clumsy growing so fast and it was pretty bad," Phillips said.
But at least he didn't wear his mother out shopping for new pants all the time.
"It was summertime and pretty hot, so I just wore these big, long shorts all the time," Phillips said. "It didn't matter that I grew so quickly."
His growth spurt eased off after he became the 6-9, 221-pound athlete that is looking to contribute immediately to a rejuvenated DePaul Blue Demon basketball program.
He certainly exhibited the pain tolerance of a football player.
"In high school, I played for two years with a shoulder injury and didn't think it was that serious," Phillips said. "I was in pain, but I learned to play through it. My dad is a tough guy, and both of my parents were very supportive in telling me to play through the pain.
"Once the pain became too great, I had surgery. I went through six months of rehabilitation and have been cleared by the doctor to play."
He has been mixing it up with the bigger Blue Demons and getting ready for the upcoming season.
"You can tell in practices that the coaches are holding us to a higher standard, and just going through the motions won't work," Phillips said. "Coach Rick Carter has us working on drills and stuff that you can actually use in a game.
"In open gym I play against Peter Ryckbosch, Tommy Hamilton IV, Rashaun Stimage and Joe Hanel as I learn to stay strong against the bigger bodies. But I also try to be quick and not always try to muscle up against them.
"As an athletic big man, I've got to rebound, play defense, block shots and do some scoring. If I do that, I can get some playing time. Coaches have told me about Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers and how he is so successful focusing on rebounding and defense."
DePaul coach Dave Leitao has returned to Lincoln Park with the steely resolve that defense and rebounding can return the Blue Demons to college basketball's postseason in the same way he guided this same program to the NCAA tournament and a pair of NIT appearances from 2002 to 2005.
As a freshman, Phillips is prepared to embrace his coach's fundamental basketball belief and perform the tasks that don't attract much glory or recognition.
"My philosophy on playing defense is to always be ready to help your teammate," Phillips said. "If you play help defense for him and he does the same for another teammate, we're all going to be connected defensively. No matter how good you are on defense, we're all going to get beat at one time or another.
"I've always been a big shot blocker, rebounder and help-side defender. Those are three things I bring to the court every day. I haven't been a big offensive type of player, but I've averaged around 10 points or more my whole life.
"I know I can score the ball, but the coaches here know I play defense first and that's why I was recruited. Coach Leitao knows what I can do."
In high school, Phillips led Clinton Christian to a 20-9 record during his senior season and averaged 9.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. He was ranked as the sixth-best player in Maryland by 247Sports.com and No. 12 overall in the state by ESPN.com.
He helped the Eagles finish as the runner-up in both 2014 and 2015 in the Maryland private schools state tournament with efforts such as the 22-point, 10-rebound effort against Evangel Christian and a 20-point, 10-rebound outing against Riverdale Baptist.
His size and athleticism attracted a number of recruiters to Clinton Christian games.
"I was recruited by Xavier, Florida, West Virginia, Maryland, Wisconsin, Nebraska and DePaul," Phillips said. "I talked to coach Carter while he was an assistant at Xavier.
"DePaul had been there since day one, and I knew DePaul's former assistant coach Renard Phillips. I was close to him before I heard about DePaul and before he became a coach there. Renard was always telling me how nice it was at DePaul.
"Until I went on my official visit, I didn't believe it would be as nice as Renard said. Then I met Jeanne (Athletic Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto) and the coaching staff. It was such a warm welcome, I felt like I was back home.
"What I liked the most on my visit was the people I met and the location of the school in Chicago. I liked the Lincoln Park community and the DePaul campus. I had a good time on my official visit."
Phillips signed a National Letter of Intent on Nov. 20, 2014. About four months later, there was a big change in the DePaul coaching staff.
"Coach Oliver Purnell resigned and Renard was let go," Phillips said. "But I had faith in Jeanne and the whole DePaul environment. Assistant coach Billy Garrett helped me in keeping my commitment. I also believed the new coach (Dave Leitao) would accept me for who I was.
"I was never tempted at all to change. Coach Leitao knew my AAU team's president with whom I was close with. He told me coach Leitao would take the DePaul program in a good direction."
More than anything, Phillips wants to be part of a winning program.
"My role doesn't bring a lot of glory, but I don't mind," he said. "In one of my biggest high school games, I grabbed a shot out of the air as a block that led to my teammate hitting the winning three-point shot. He got all the attention, but I knew if not for that blocked shot, the game would have been over.
"I like watching my teammate Rashaun Stimage
and the game he plays. I try to remember some of the things he does and put it in my repertoire."
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