Q&A: Jayco Opals star Erin Phillips

Q&A: Jayco Opals star Erin Phillips

Jayco Australian Opals star Erin Phillips is on a collision course with history, with the coming months having the potential to elevate her to one of the all-time greats of the Australian women’s basketball.

Already with an Olympic silver medal, a World Championship and WNBA title, Phillips is hoping 2014 will see more honours added to her already impressive trophy cabinet.

The 29-year-old is back in the Jayco Opals fold after missing the 2012 London Olympic Games, becoming one of the pillars of Head Coach Brendan Joyce’s new-look team eyeing gold at the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women in Turkey.

Before she joins up with the Jayco Opals and a chance to become a two-time World Champion, Phillips is in search of her second WNBA title – this time with the unstoppable Phoenix Mercury.

An off-season trade to Phoenix saw Phillips unite with fellow Jayco Opal Penny Taylor and Opals legend Sandy Brondello – the Head Coach – with the trio combining to guide the Mercury to a league-best 29-5 record.

Phillips capped off a strong regular season campaign as the leading three-point shooter in the WNBA, finishing top of the shooting percentage standings at an eye-popping 45%.

We caught up with Phillips on the eve of the WNBA playoffs to talk all things Mercury and Jayco Opals as Phoenix prepare for the opening game of their Western Conference Semi-Final series against the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday.

Basketball Australia: Pre-season all the talk was about the amazing talented the Mercury had stock-pilled for a charge at the WNBA Championship – fast forward to the eve of the playoffs and the team produced one of the most dominant seasons in WNBA history. Did you see it coming?

Erin Phillips: There’s a part of me that is surprised, but there’s a part of me that isn’t.

I honestly thought we’d be right up there, but I didn’t see us finishing with a record like 29-5 in such a competitive league, where there are no easy games.

But also there is a side of me that isn’t completely surprised that we did do so well. We have such a talented team and most importantly we have fantastic team chemistry.

Credit to Sandy as well because she really made sure we stayed focused one game at a time and so the record just crept up on us.

BA: Going into post-season with a dominant Mercury team – are there any similarities between the feeling going into the 2014 Playoffs compared to your championship-winning season with the Indiana Fever in 2012.

EP: The only similarity is knowing how tough it is going to be to win a WNBA Championship.

With Indiana, we were definitely the underdogs throughout the playoffs and we faced elimination twice before we won the title, where this time around we’ll probably start as the favourites to win it all given the season that we’ve had.

BA: That run to the WNBA Championship in 2012 brought out the best in your game, going to set a Finals record for three-point shooting. Does the confidence of that performance, give you the belief you can again be a difference-maker in this post-season?

EP: I don’t really think about it too much. Sandy (Brondello) gives us all the green light to shoot when open and shoot with confidence. So when I get out there I will have the same focus and mind set and just do whatever I can to help the team – be it on the defensive end or shooting.

BA: In the past four games you have averaged 12.8 points at a remarkable 73% from the field and 67% from beyond the arc – propelling your season mark to 45% from three-point territory (WNBA-best). Do you feel like you’re shooting ball as well as you ever have?

EP: Yeah I feel like I have good rhythm in my shot and hopefully it can continue. After the last game of the season in Seattle Sandy came up to me and congratulated me for finishing as the leading three-point shooter in the league, but I honestly had no idea.

I don’t look at the stats or percentages because they can put you off, so I try to lock in and take it game-by-game.

BA: In a FIBA World Championship for Women year the WNBA calendar is heavily condensed, limiting your downtime. How do you go keeping tabs on how the Jayco Opals preparations are coming along?

EP: I’m always keeping an active eye on how the team is coming along and always stay in regular contact with Brendan (Joyce) and the players to get updates and see how things are tracking along.

Obviously it’s difficult as Penny (Taylor) and I need to keep our focus on the next few weeks, which will be the most important of the season, but we’re always keeping track, either through stats or live streaming of games.

BA: You’ve made a significant commitment to the new-look Jayco Opals program in the build-up to the FIBA World Championship for Women. How do you see yourself contributing to help the team return to the podium after missing out on a medal in 2010?

EP: It’s a really exciting time for the program at the moment. If I’m being honest I really haven’t played a lot of minutes in my time with the Jayco Opals – this is my opportunity to come out and really be a leader and help the young players that Brendan has brought through.

I’m super excited to be involved in what Brendan is creating with the program, particularly with his ideas around player-driven culture that expects excellence and defines the values of what it means to be an Opal.

You can see the impact it is having on the group and the players that have bought into being a part of it.

It’s great to see this exciting young talent coming through and get their chance, not only for Turkey, but for the program going towards Rio and beyond.

Obviously I can’t wait for the WNBA playoffs to start, but I’m also very excited by the prospect of playing for Australia on the World Championship stage.

BA: The return of Penny Taylor to the court after a horror run with injury over the past two years has been a sight for sore eyes. How important is her return to form and fitness?

EP: It’s been an amazing return for Penny and I’m just so happy to see her back on the court and playing some great basketball.

As we all know it has been a frustrating two years for her with the injuries, but to see her work ethic, not just on the court, but in the weight room pay off, you can understand why she has been so good since her comeback.

She is one of the best players in the world and so vital for Australia’s hope to win another gold medal.

Next stop for the Jayco Opals is Istanbul, Turkey – the host city of the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women – for the TBF Zafer Cup where they will face Canada, Brazil and Turkey.

Action tips off on Friday night at 11:15pm AEST as the Jayco Opals take on Canada.

For all the latest from the WNBA Playoffs be sure to visit the Basketball Australia website at www.basketball.net.au.