East St. Louis High School boys basketball coach Phillip Gilbert arrived at his office last Thursday expecting just another normal day.
Just a few years removed from a successful collegiate career at Bradley University followed by a long professional basketball career overseas, the 33-year-old Gilbert, in his first season as Flyers coach, was working in his office when he received a phone call. The call, which was totally unexpected left him well speechless.
It was a call informing Gilbert that he had been elected to Bradley University Athletic Hall of Fame.
“The new Bradley Athletic Director Chris Reynolds called and informed me that I had been elected. I was shocked. I was stunned and speechless. I was speechless. All I could say was thank you, thank you, thank you,” Gilbert said, smiling. “It was actually surreal. It really was. To be honored with some of the Bradley greats is an honor. It’s a privledge and I am really truly blessed.”
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A 2000 graduate of East St. Louis where he played for legendary coach Bennie Lewis, and a 2004 graduate of Bradley whese he scored more then 1,600 points and is currently eighth on the Braves all-time scoring list, Gilbert will be inducted with the rest of the class of 2016 on Feb. 6-7 in Peoria.
The Class of 2016 will be honored at a luncheon on Feb. 6 at the new Bradley Arena then will be recognized at halftime of the Braves game against Indiana State on Feb. 7
It will be a big weekend for Gilbert who after the luncheon will drive home to coach as the Flyers host Edwardsville on Feb. 6. Gilbert will then return to Peoria on Feb. 7 to be part of the halftime ceremony.
“It will be a crazy and hectic weekend with all the driving. But I’m looking forward to every second of it,” Gilbert said. “I’m trying to get a pass for my seniors to go up with us on Saturday for the game and ceremony. I think it would be a great experience for them.”
Gilbert finished his Bradley career with 1,689 points and ranks second in school history in career 3-point field goals with 223. Gilbert was selected to the Missouri Valley all-freshman team following his first season and was a first team all Missouri Valley Conference player as a junior when he led the league in scoring with a 21.2 per game scoring average.
Creighton University great Kyle Korveer was second in the MVC in scoring that season. Korveer is now playing with the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA.
Gilbert will join another former NBA great and Bradley University standout Hersey Hawkins in the Hall of Fame. Hawkins, who played with the Philadephia 76’ers, among others, led the nation in scoring one year. Gilbert said Hawkins was just one of many people who played vital roles in his development as a player and person at Bradley.
“I had the chance to speak with him (Hawkins) one day after practice for over an hour. We had come from similar backgrounds and just to be able to sit and talk with him that day was a great experience. He just told me what it took and that if I worked hard and did the right things that I had a chance to make my dreams come true. To be enshrined in the same Hall of Fame as him is just a tremendous honor,” Gilbert said. “The people, my coaches, my professors and all of my teammates for my four years at Bradley ... they were all part of this. I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish the things I have and I wouldn’t be going in the Hall of Fame with their support and help.”
The two men most responsible for Gilbert’s success in Peoria — former Braves coaches Jim Molinari and Jim Les — are people he has the utmost respect and two of the people he calls quite often.
“I talk to them even more now since I’ve been named as coach here,” Gilbert said. “Coach Molinari and coach Les, wow, those two are great coaches but they are even better people. Coach Molinari was there my first two years and he’s the one who gave a shy kid from East St. Louis a chance. He taught me about offense and defense but he also taught me about the benifits of working hard.
“Coach Les was there my last two years and he had the confidence in me to turn me loose as a basketball player. He had faith in me to make me a team captain and let me display my ability and talent. I owe them a great deal of thanks.”
After earning his degree in criminal justice in four years at Bradley. Gilbert spent seven years playing basketball all over the world — in England, France, Germany, Signapore and New Zealand before returning home to East St. Louis.
After two years as an assistant with the Flyers, Gilbert was named head coach earlier this year.
“It’s been great working with the kids. The attitude has been tremendous,” Gilbert said. “The kids have worked hard and done everything I’ve asked of them. Not one kid has been late to practice once.”
The Flyers open their 2015-16 season on Nov. 24 at the Springfield Lanphier Holiday Tournament.