By Wil Crews

The Smiths Station varsity girls’ basketball team is off to a 1-2 start and first-year head coach Kalvin Phillips is still working to implement his brand of basketball on the group.

“Things have been a roller coaster,” Phillips said of the start of the season. “It’s really seeing what you have and looking at what needs to be done, and the thing we need the most is the thing we don’t have a lot of — time. We had time to work on the fundamentals then work on a strategy and plan, but the season is here now so we have to make the best of the time we have and work with what we got.”

In the infancy of their 2021-22 season, a number of untimely injuries have contributed to the Panthers’ slow start and impacted the youthful team’s progress in learning its coach’s system.

“After the first game, we dealt with a couple of injuries, so that has slowed us down,” Phillips said. “[We] lost our starting point guard. Once you lose guards and starters and key reserves, that kind of changes your game plan. I can’t be as aggressive on defense because I’m missing those key people. Once the players in there have been on the court a while, they get tired and I can’t risk injuring them as well.”

Despite some of the early obstacles, Phillips said he has still seen plenty of positives from his team in its first three games.

“Some of the good things we have done is upping our level of aggression,” he said. “Picking up the pace. Make our name defensively. Make sure we are guarding each person on rotation.”

With time, and the return of his squad’s full depth, Phillips said he looks forward to improving on some key areas of the game that have hurt the Panthers thus far in 2021.

“A couple things we need to work on, you know offensively, just getting out on the break, making the best of our opportunities to score, just getting that experience and maturity in the game,” he said. “These aren’t the little girls of junior high anymore. The varsity game is very fast paces; the players are very mature.”

For the Panthers to get to where they want to be, Phillips singled out a few team leaders he thinks can help them do so.

“Cassidy Pittman (point guard/shooting guard), she has been a leader,” Phillips said. “My sophomore Khamyri Jordan (point guard), she has been a big help and has been instrumental in helping prepare and helping coach along the younger girls. Jatayah Bryant (shooting guard) has been a great help defensively and offensively. Freshman Malaya Crowell, she’s young but she’s ready to play. She’s learning the game as she’s picking up the game. She’s just biding her time but she knows she is going to be a part of the future of this program.”

Before coming to Smiths this summer, Phillips had all of his experience coaching boys’ basketball — something he said has forced him to continuously evaluate his coaching strategy with this team. 

“I’m used to coaching 16-to-17-year-old boys on a varsity level,” he said. “But now, because of the youth we have, these are 14-15-16-year-old girls and they are put into the position where they have to play at a varsity level. Everyone doesn’t respond to that kind of approach. It taught me to reevaluate my approach, and to find something more conducive to the personnel that we have.”

The youth on this Panther team — which only boast one senior and two juniors — has only added to this unique challenge for Phillips, he said.

“With their youth, I had to learn that I personally cannot come at them with such an aggressive approach,” Phillips said. “I think they are learning about me, I am learning about them. Over time we are going to grow into this program together.”

Still early in the season, one of the things Phillips has enjoyed the most is getting to personally know his group.

“It’s been a joy just to get to know them individually,” Phillips said. “They are all little balls of energy.”

With the Panthers back in action this week, Phillips main goal is to just continue to improve, he said.

“Even in a loss we want to take that as an opportunity to get better, to mature and get that experience,” Phillips said. “One day this team full of sophomores and freshman will be a team of juniors and seniors. We are still going to play our upbeat game. We just have to pick our moments.”