COLLEGE STATION — When Phil Pressey arrived at Missouri as a freshman point guard three years ago, his brother Matt was one of his teammates; his coach was Mike Anderson; and the Tigers were in the Big 12 Conference. None of those things is true now.
But just like he does while running the show on the court, Pressey goes with the flow with supreme confidence, never flinching in the face of adversity.
And this season, Missouri’s first in the Southeastern Conference, has had plenty of both triumph and tribulations. Through it all, the former Episcopal School of Dallas standout and son of former NBA player Paul Pressey has emerged as one of the top players in the nation. Entering tonight’s game at South Carolina, Pressey was averaging 12.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 7.0 assists per game. He is also one of a dozen finalists for the Bob Cousy National Point Guard of the Year Award.
“I’m a junior now, and I know the ropes,” Phil said. “The game is becoming a lot easier for me. That comes with experience. My work ethic allows me to perform at a high level. It’s just in my nature — not because he [Paul] played in the NBA; I just always wanted to be the best. I want to be the best point guard and best player I can be. When I’m not considered the best point guard, it makes me work even harder. That’s how I was born.”
The Tigers (19-8, 8-6) are perfect at home this season after a huge victory over Florida on Feb. 19. But Mizzou has suffered some gut-wrenching losses on the road, including Saturday’s 90-83 overtime loss at Kentucky and a tough 70-68 setback at Texas A&M this month in which Pressey turned the ball over late with a one-point lead. The next game, he bounced back to score 22 points and become the all-time assists leader for the Tigers in a 98-79 whipping of a good Ole Miss team.
“You have nay-sayers who say, ‘Oh, he’s too small or too this,’ ” ESD head basketball coach Corey Henderson said. “To me, he’s a leader. And it’s hard to find a true, genuine leader. He already has what I call ‘the it factor.’ He’s a winner and a gamer. He makes things happen out on the court without shooting the ball.”
Both Paul Pressey, who is credited for originating the point forward position in the NBA, and his wife, Liz, played college basketball at Tulsa. Paul played for Milwaukee, San Antonio, and Golden State in a pro career that spanned more than a decade. Phil’s sister, Angie, played volleyball for Cal. Clearly, Phil had a strong gene pool working in his favor.
“My kids grew up around basketball,” said Paul, who is now an assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers. “I told them all, ‘Y’all are going to play something, so pick a sport.’ My wife and myself always believed in being active. We wanted to get our kids to have as much activity as possible. That’s a good thing to have in your life — being active and playing a team sport. They hit basketball pretty hard.”
Phil was a three-year starter at ESD. He recorded the program’s first triple-double and led the Eagles to a pair of Southwest Preparatory Conference titles. Henderson’s son, Corey Jr., also notched a triple-double this season.
“It’s a good thing to be alumni from there,” Phil said. “It’s a great school. I got a great education there. Coach Henderson has got the basketball program going well since I left. His son is playing well, too.”
The feeling is mutual for his former school and former coach.
“It’s very exciting,” Henderson said. “To have the opportunity to coach him here, and to see him on TV, and follow his career in college is really good and refreshing. A lot of the kids here look up to him. He’s somebody they can say is their own. He’s a big part of the community and the continued success we’ve had. He was a big part of two state championships here.”
Mizzou won 23 games Phil’s freshman year and 30 last season. Each year ended with a first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament to Cincinnati and Norfolk State, respectively. If the Tigers are going to take the next step, Phil will have to lead them there.
“Phil’s a great player and a great kid,” second-year Tigers head coach Frank Haith said. “He’s a special young man. We’re very fortunate to have him.”
With his name already etched in the record books in Columbia, Phil hopes to lead the Tigers to their first NCAA Tournament win since 2010 before he very likely follows his father’s footsteps into the NBA.
“It’s all about the right place at the right time,” Paul said. “His choice of going to Missouri was a great choice for him. Even though the coaching change and all of that happened, things happen for a reason. You deal with that, make the adjustment, and you keep moving. It was great to see him play beside his older brother. I got to see them play four games last year because of our lockout. I also got to see them on TV periodically. It’s nice to see your kids do well.”