Kroner: Monticello's Phipps says 'it was all worth it'
MONTICELLO — Bryan Phipps isn’t out to prove anything. That mission already was accomplished.
He isn’t trying to impress anyone. The numbers speak for themselves.
The Monticello High athlete is going to play a basketball game today and then join the ranks of those who derive their enjoyment and pleasure by watching contests from the sidelines or from an armchair.
He is one of 20 area senior boys who will play in the second News-Gazette/Parkland College basketball showcase game (3 p.m. tipoff, following the 1 p.m. girls’ all-star game) in the Cobras’ gymnasium.
Phipps was a prominent part of successful junior high basketball teams at Monticello and played on AAU travel teams that were ultra-competitive. As a high school freshman, he worked his way into seven varsity games.
Basketball was the passion, his favorite sport, and as he evolved from a 6-foot-4 freshman into a solid 6-6, he embraced The Dream.
“As a freshman and a sophomore, I had the desire to go on (and play in college),” Phipps said.
That was before his first knee injury. Or his second. Or his third. Or his first on the other knee.
It was in advance of his first knee surgery. Or his first on the other knee.
It was before his four-year prep career was reduced to basically two full seasons of football and 21/2 of basketball.
Phipps still loves the game. He can shoot with the best of them. He can pass as well as any post player in the area.
He realizes, however, his time has come, and today will mark his farewell appearance in a competitive environment.
“After all this happened, playing on the hardwood, icing my knees after every practice, I don’t know if I could take it four more years,” Phipps said.
There were other options had he chosen to pursue them. An All-Area first-team offensive lineman as a senior, Butler, Drake and Millikin were among the universities that showed an interest in Phipps for football.
The feeling wasn’t mutual.
“I’ve always loved basketball more,” he said. “I didn’t feel my heart would be in it all the way. I was always pretty good at football, but I considered myself more of a basketball player.”
Football is not in his future.
Phipps recognizes what it’s like to not be involved — or at least to not be actively involved. He was unable to play football or basketball as a high school junior.
The time on the sidelines served as an indoctrination to what will be his existence in the future.
“Last year gave me a preview of what life would be like without sports dominating your life,” Phipps said.
He didn’t get a true picture, however, because of his desire to remain as involved as possible. Others noticed the commitment, which wasn’t expected but was appreciated.
“He wanted to be in the gym every day,” Monticello boys’ basketball coach Kevin Roy said. “Even if he had therapy right after school, if he could get back for the last half-hour of practice he would, and he would be dribbling and shooting off to the side.
“Several times, the coaches would watch him shoot and say, ‘We could use that on the court.’ ”
Though he wasn’t cleared to play, Phipps pulled on his No. 43 jersey for the final 10 games of the 2011-12 season.
“It felt like I was making my debut back,” Phipps said. “I wasn’t allowed to play, but I did go through warmups.”
Phipps had a nondescript (translation: injury-free) freshman season in football. The third junior varsity game of the winter basketball season started what would turn into a recurring series of painful events.
He suffered a patellar subluxation in the left knee, which meant the kneecap was dislocated. Following five weeks of therapy, Phipps was able to finish the season and rejoin his AAU team for its offseason travels.
As a sophomore, Phipps worked his way into the football starting lineup as the right tackle. He played three games.
“The first play of the first offensive series against Argenta-Oreana (in Week 4), the kneecap popped out again,” Phipps said. “That put me out until the playoff game (in Week 10).”
He returned with a brace on the injured knee and anticipated a banner season in basketball.
“In our third basketball game, against Auburn (Dec. 4, 2010), my right knee popped out for the first time,” Phipps recalled.
He was sidelined until January but still managed to get into 21 varsity games by season’s end.
Less than six months later, in a summer AAU game, the right kneecap again became dislodged.
“The next day, we saw Dr. (Jerrad) Zimmerman (at Carle),” Phipps said. “He talked about double knee surgery.”
The first operation (on the left knee) took place Aug. 20, 2011.
“They couldn’t do both at the same time because they wanted me to have support of crutches around school,” Phipps said.
The second surgery (which also required a little less than 90 minutes) took place Nov. 1, 2011.
“They put two big titanium screws through the tibia to anchor down the patellar,” Phipps said. “They said there was a 90 percent chance they’d never pop out again.”
Four days after the second knee operation, “I sat in the back of my dad’s truck and watched our playoff (football) game against Unity,” Phipps said.
The football team ended with a 7-4 record.
“Being competitive, I wanted to help the team,” he said. “I felt helpless, not doing anything. It was a lonely feeling.”
His times of idleness were less distasteful due to the support of his classmates.
“That senior class played football together and basketball together, and one thing that helped him when he couldn’t play as a junior was they viewed him as a teammate and he felt engaged,” Roy said.
The goals Phipps set for his senior season didn’t involve personal achievements.
“I wanted to play every game like it was my last, never leave anything on the field and help the team the best I could because I knew it would probably be my last time playing,” he said. “I definitely felt like I tried to play as hard as I could.
“It was all worth it in the end.”
That brings us to the here and now. Phipps is within months of graduating from high school. He has started a part-time job in his hometown. He is completing college visits and likely will pick between Xavier’s business school or Saint Louis University’s aviation management program.
“Maybe I’ll get a pilot’s license someday,” he said.
He was an All-Area second-team selection in basketball, returning from his year of inactivity to not only lead the 23-6 Sages in field goal accuracy (54.5 percent) but also in assists (83). His scoring average (10.6) was second best on the team.
“He brought an understanding of the game that goes beyond most high schoolers, and he could see things that point guards see, things you can’t teach as a coach,” said Roy, who will direct the all-star team that Phipps is on today at Parkland. “I don’t think he could have done more than what he did (as a senior). He is so unselfish and makes teammates better.
“It will be fun to get out there with him one more time.”
Phipps’ finale will be a fitting tribute to a person who was diligent in his efforts to return to Monticello as an impact player.
“He’s as good of a kid off the court as he is on,” Roy said. “He’s a first-class individual. With his personality and work ethic, he will be successful in whatever he does. I hope others aspire to be like him.”
Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette’s prep sports coordinator. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached by phone at 217-351-5232, by fax at 217-373-7401 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @fredkroner.