April 16, 2014 10:47:51 PM
The thought of playing basketball in college always was in the back of Kristen Phillips' head.
Whether she was at Heritage Academy, New Hope High School, or back at Heritage Academy, Phillips stayed sharp on the basketball court in the hope she would find the right school that would suit her academic pursuits and her athletic dreams.
Phillips found the right fit in Birmingham Southern. A journey that started last fall with a visit to the campus in Alabama came full
circle Wednesday as the Heritage Academy senior signed a letter of intent to play basketball at the Division III school.
"I fell in love with the campus right when I walked on it," said Phillips, who will receive an academic scholarship. "I loved it. Even
if I didn't play basketball, I thought this is where I want to go to college. Then I was blessed with the opportunity to play basketball
there, so I was like, that it is just icing on the cake."
Division III schools don't offer athletic scholarships, which is OK with Phillips because she is focused on putting her academics first. She intends to major in biology or chemistry with a concentration on pre-optometry. While Phillips works toward finding a career for after she graduates, she is excited she will get the chance to keep playing a sport she loves and has learned so much playing.
"It all started in 10th grade when one of my coaches asked me, 'Have you ever thought about playing college ball?' " Phillips said. "Before that, I had never really thought about it. I thought about it and then it was in the back of my mind. I decided I would work hard and see how far that gets."
Phillips said the Birmingham Southern women's basketball coaches told her on her visit that they would love for her to join the program. She credited Chris Ball, who coached Phillips this past season on the Heritage Academy girls basketball team, for pushing the players and setting a good example for everyone.
"I tried to fill whatever role I needed to for us to be successful. ... I think leadership helped out with that. I had a blast. We had
five seniors, and we all helped out each other. I tried to step up and be a leader on the team."
Phillips spent her freshman and sophomore seasons at Heritage Academy
and her junior season at New Hope High.
Ball said Phillips led the team in scoring at 13.4 points per game this season. He credited Phillips for being a leader and for emerging in big games, including 24- and 26-point efforts against Biloxi High and Long Beach High in the Bay High tournament in December.
"She was a big part of the team," Ball said. "Every game there was a mismatch with her. She can play the small forward or shooting guard. I think with the ballhandling skills she has she will be able to create that mismatch again in college."
Ball praised Phillips for setting the right example for some of the younger players in the program. He hopes she will continue to do things the right way and to work hard at whatever she does.
With an eye already on her academic future, Phillips will try to incorporate basketball into a busy college lifestyle.
'It feels good to know you have made a decision and you feel right," Phillips said. "I can definitely see myself going to Birmingham
Southern. That helps out a lot. "
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.