Mad Ants forward Marvin Phillips believes more than one road leads to the NBA.
So far, he's traveled from South Carolina to South America, from Oklahoma City to Mexico, from obscurity to Fort Wayne, all with a singular purpose. Phillips, 26, has played for 10 teams in six years, winter and summer combined.
That's Phillips: Has dream, will travel.
“Being in so many different places year after, if you're not really focused and motivated, you can easily hang your head,” Phillips said. “I don't know too many people who can go somewhere different every single year and still have the motivation, and believe they can make it.”
Phillips pauses, and then emphatically declares his intentions.
“I honestly believe I'm going to make it to the NBA one way or another, and I'm not stopping until I do,” he said.
Phillips' tunnel vision could be critical to the Mad Ants, who play their first road games at Maine on Friday and Springfield on Saturday. While the season is only four games old, Phillips has established his presence in all areas of the team's game.
Phillips is second on the team in scoring (15 points per game) and first in rebounds (9.3 per game). He has team highs in steals (11) and blocks (nine).
“He's got real instincts for the ball,” Mad Ants coach Joey Meyer said. “He'll make some plays in practice where everybody just stops and wonder how he did it – coming from the left elbow and getting a rebound on the right block. He has a great nose for the basketball.”
The 6-foot-7 Phillips led the NBA D-League in rebounds per minute played last season at Iowa. He was in his second year with the Energy – the only team he's played for twice during his journey – but he played only 17 minutes per game.
The Mad Ants traded for Phillips before the season because they believed he could thrive as a power forward, despite his relative slight build. He is averaging 27 minutes per game, a number that speaks to his value. Phillips said he is grateful to Iowa coach Nick Nurse for giving him his first chance in the D-League, but is embracing the opportunity for more playing time in Fort Wayne.
“The coaching staff and the whole organization have confidence in me, and that makes me more confident in myself,” Phillips said. “Now I step on the court and know I'm going to get minutes and I know I have to produce – and that's great for me.
Phillips grew up in South Carolina and played for Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C. His father, Marvin Phillips Sr., played basketball for the University of North Carolina-Wilmington before joining the Army, where he built a 22-year career.
“Basketball has always been in my family,” the younger Phillips said. “My pops played, my mother played, a couple of my aunts and uncles played. Even when I go back home today, I hear stories about my pops.”
Phillips Jr., who has a 10-month-old son named Marvin Phillips III, said he understands he's a “tweener” in pro basketball terms. At 6-7 and 201 pounds, he's a bit undersized for the power forward spot. Yet his rebounding and block shot statistics indicate he knows how to play big. He uses his jumping ability and quickness to deal with bigger players.
“Most of the time I'm just as strong or stronger, and the majority of the time I'm a lot quicker,” Phillips said. “I'm able to use those strengths that I have, and that makes me look like I'm 6-10 on the court.”
In the Ants' loss to Erie on Sunday, Phillips scored 17 points with 13 rebounds, four assists, three blocks, two steals and no turnovers. He played 36 minutes, the time of court time he's traveled the country and the world trying to find.
“I must say I've been praying for an opportunity to show this league what I can really do,” Phillips said. “You can't do that on the bench.”