Fifteen years ago as a high school senior, Phillip Gilbert got to fulfill his first basketball dream when he helped lead his hometown East St. Louis team to the Class AA state tournament and a third-place finish.
Now, at the age of 33 and after playing stops in Peoria, Miami and several cities throughout Eastern and Western Europe and three years as an assistant on the East St. Louis’ coaching staff, Gilbert is ready to see what he can do as the leader of the Flyers.
Gilbert was named 10th boys basketball coach in East St. Louis history late last month.
He officially took over April 28.
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It’s a hectic, but exciting time for Gilbert who played under the legendary Bennie Lewis and was a teammate of former NBA player Darius Miles while at East St. Louis.
In addition to learning to his new duties, Gilbert has been busy with last-minute arrangements for the second annual Phillip Gilbert and Family Scholarship Alumni Basketball Game on Saturday at East St. Louis High School and on May 24 will marry his longtime girlfriend, Tanya Hopkins.
“Yes, she knows what she’s getting into, marrying a basketball coach. Tanya knows the game. She’s helped me scout a few times already,“ Gilbert said. “I’m totally honored to have the opportunity to coach this basketball program and excited about the future.
“To be named as the head coach at a school in which I played and in a community that I love, is a dream come true.”
A 2000 graduate of East St. Louis, Gilbert went on to attend Bradley University where he was a four-year starter and led the Missouri Valley Conference in scoring as a junior when he averaged 19 points per game. Gilbert earned his college degree in criminal justice in 2004.
Despite going on to play seven years of professional basketball in places like the United Kingdom, Poland and France after leaving the Braves, Gilbert realizes the value of an education.
As the Flyers coach, Gilbert will stress academics to his players.
“I’m determined to do whatever it takes to help these kids be successful both academic-wise and basketball-wise. I’m very big on academics,” Gilbert said. “I believe that the basics of doing the right things in the classroom translates into being successful on the basketball court. You have to work hard, be disciplined and focused on the job at hand.”
Gilbert takes over the coaching duties from Tony Young, whose three-year stint with the Flyers ended in January when he was suspended by District 189 after an audio of a profanity filled halftime talk surfaced on YouTube. Young never returned to coach the Flyers and later resigned. Hank Harris then took over on an interim basis and guided the Flyers for the remainder of the season.
The Flyers finished the season 20-7, including a 14-0 mark in Southwestern Conference play. East St. Louis’ season ended when it was upset by Collinsville in the title game of the Class 4A Belleville West Regional.
Despite the circumstances surrounding the departure of Young, Gilbert said he learned a great deal from him as well as Harris and has already spoken on several occasions with Lewis, his Hall of Fame former coach.
“I talked to coach Lewis the other night for over two hours. One of the things he told me was to surround myself with people I can trust in the basketball program,” Gilbert said. “The thing about coach Lewis was that he let his players play. I’m an up-tempo coach. I like the fast pace with a lot of full court pressure. That’s the way we’ll try to play.
“Tony Young taught me about discipline with his coaching. He really gets the kids to buy into his system. He is a great person and a great guy and he taught these kids discipline and I’m not only talking about on the basketball court. I’m talking about descipline in the classroom and in life.”
And what about the pressure of coaching at his old school?
“I don’t feel any pressure. This is basketball. You aren’t going to win every night. It’s how you respond to the adversity that matters,” Gilbert said. “When we lose a game, why did we lose and what can I do as a player or a coach to make sure we don’t do it again.”
Above all, Gilbert wants to be a positive role model for his players both on and off the court.
“I’m a guy I think kids can look up to,” Gilbert said. “I walk around with a smile on my face always with a positive outlook and attitude about life. I think I’m very approachable. The kind of coach kids can talk to about anything, about grades, about basketball about what’s going on in their life.
I’m one of those guys who leads by example. I carry myself in a way that’s respectful toward others. That’s the way I was raised and the way I want my players to be.”
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2661.