Isaiah Philmore was a fixture for three years in John Carroll’s lineup. The same was true for the 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward when he continued his playing career at Towson.
During the 2011-12 season, however, Philmore was relegated to an unfamiliar position: sitting on the bench.
“It was really tough for me because I’m really not used to not being able to play,” said Philmore, who sat out his junior season after transferring to Xavier from Towson. “But I got a lot better, worked out a lot. You actually get to see the game in person. You can learn a lot if you’re really paying attention. I really think that it helped me become a better player.”
After losing the top five scorers from last season off its roster, the Musketeers’ coaching staff can’t help but hope Philmore’s observation about his improvement comes true. A redshirt junior from Bel Air, Philmore is expected to play a major role for a Xavier program that has made seven-straight NCAA tournament appearances, but could be in store for a rebuilding year thanks to the graduation of three starters and the unexpected departures of two others.
Philmore, however, is just happy to return to game action. A second-team Baltimore Sun All-Metro selection in 2009, Philmore surprised many local college basketball followers when he spurned high-major and mid-major-plus offers to play at Towson. As a freshman, Philmore averaged 6.4 points and 3.9 rebounds in 20.7 minutes for the Tigers (10-21).
Sophomore year brought significant statistical increases – 15.3 points per game, 7.0 rebounds and 35.7 minutes – for Philmore but less team success. Towson stumbled through a 4-26 campaign that ended with the dismissal of coach Pat Kennedy. Rather than sign on for a rebuilding project with the Tigers, Philmore headed for Cincinnati to join the Atlantic 10’s preeminent power.
“It was very different,” Philmore said. “At Towson, I just had a hard time, just basketball-wise, with [the team losing]. Once you get to Xavier, [winning is] an expectation. You’re on another level. They basically expect you to be perfect. There’s a very high standard you have to live up to. Your work ethic has to be that much more.”
More than anything during his redshirt year, Philmore said he learned that the game is “probably more mental than physical.” When Musketeers coach Chris Mack called a timeout, Philmore could see firsthand the reasons behind his decision. When Mack or another staff member drew up a play, Philmore understood the thinking behind it.
Sitting out last season “definitely helped me become more vocal, more confident in what I think and how I feel, which is exactly what the team needs this year,” Philmore said. “We need leaders, somebody to be there and look up to and listen to.”
Guard Tu Holloway (17.5 ppg), center Kenny Frease (10.2 ppg) and forward Andre Walker (5.3 ppg) have graduated, while guard Mark Lyons (15.1 ppg) and wing Dez Wells (9.8 ppg) have transferred to Arizona and Maryland, respectively. Touted guard recruit Myles Davis, meanwhile, will redshirt because the NCAA didn't clear courses he took at Notre Dame Prep.
Travis Taylor, a senior forward who averaged 4.5 points as a redshirt junior, is the Musketeers’ leading returning scorer. Philmore certainly didn’t expect to be one of just eight eligible scholarship players on Xavier’s roster.
“Not at all. Nobody was really expecting anything like this,” he said. “But it’s life. You have to deal with the things that get thrown at you. Right now, we’re adapting to the different situation that we’re in now with less talent. We’re coming together more as a team. But we’re ready to win and go all out.”
Philmore, who will play the 3 and the 4 depending on matchups, said he planned on being a vocal leader for the Musketeers before their many departures. He’ll be expected to pick up a decent amount of Xavier’s scoring slack, in addition to focusing on rebounding on the offensive and defensive ends.
When Philmore left Towson, he planned on playing for a winning program. Despite the Musketeers’ unexpected roster deficiencies, Philmore is looking forward to doing everything in his power to keep Xavier at the top of the A-10 standings.
“I’m so ready. So excited,” Philmore said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the court. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. I can’t wait to get out there the first game.”
The Sweet 16 is an occasional series profiling the best Division I college basketball players from the Baltimore area. Players were selected based on prior accomplishments and projections for the upcoming season.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times