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Former Newport Harbor standout Brandon Phillips plays on in the JBA

Former Newport Harbor standout Brandon Phillips plays on in the JBA
Brandon Phillips, shown during his senior year with the Newport Harbor High boys' basketball team on Jan. 7, 2016, is a member of the Los Angeles Ballers in LaVar Ball's Junior Basketball Assn. (Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

While at Newport Harbor High, Brandon Phillips proved his love for basketball.

In his junior year, his grades had slipped enough to where Sailors basketball coach Bob Torribio had to bring him some bad news.

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The athletic guard would miss the season because he needed to get his academics back in order.

Having the game taken away deals a blow to any athlete, but Torribio left the door open to Phillips. If he took care of business off the court, he would be able to return to the team.

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Phillips returned to lead Newport Harbor to the CIF Southern Section Division 2AA playoffs his senior year during the 2015-16 season, but the experience of sitting out a season taught him a valuable lesson.

He recognized that Torribio had given him a second chance, and he made the most of it.

“I don’t think that happens that much, to be honest,” Phillips said of getting to return to the team.

Now Phillips recognizes an opportunity when it comes along. His latest move has seen him land in LaVar Ball’s Junior Basketball Assn. with the Los Angeles Ballers.

The JBA came about as an alternative for college-aged basketball players to continue their basketball careers. A tryout was held in April for athletes who were between the ages of 17-19 at the Momentous Sports Center in Irvine.

It’s definitely been a great experience. Traveling and playing basketball, that’s always been a dream of mine, and so I’m happy to be living it right now.


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Phillips, a 19-year-old shooting guard who is 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds, said that his friend and former Edison High standout Nate Matthews had received an invite to the tryout. At the time, Phillips had been working out for the upcoming season with Orange Coast College, but he decided to tag along with Matthews to see if the JBA was taking walk-ons.

Phillips got the chance to participate in the tryout, and as someone who has learned the value of an opportunity, he made his own break by making the team. Matthews did not make the JBA.

“This opportunity came along, and I think it’s a really amazing opportunity to get my name out there, get some exposure, and to prepare me for overseas or the NBA,” Phillips said. “It’s definitely been a great experience. Traveling and playing basketball, that’s always been a dream of mine, and so I’m happy to be living it right now.”

On the road, Phillips is roommates with Taylor Kirkham, who was a four-year varsity player at Oxnard and a redshirt guard at Moorpark College. Kirkham had been invited to the tryout, but he said he has nothing but respect for anyone who did make the team as a walk-on.

“I think we have two or three guys on our team that are actually walk-on guys, and I’m glad that we did that because we have the best team possible,” Kirkham said. “You just go and seize that opportunity, and it turns out going good for you. I respect that.”

Phillips said he visited Torribio in his classroom during the last two weeks of school, as he wanted to thank his high school coach for being a positive influence in his life.

“He definitely prepared me a lot for this moment, through how he runs his practices to the advice that he gives and everything,” Phillips said of Torribio. “I definitely appreciate it.”

Torribio said that it felt good to know that his basketball program made a difference in someone’s life.

“He always kind of fit exactly what we want in our program, somebody who is competitive and unselfish,” Torribio said of Phillips. “It doesn’t surprise me at all that he kind of directed himself in a way to continue playing basketball, and I’m very proud that things are going well for him right now.

“It was great seeing him. He’s always been an appreciative young man. He always valued our coaching, any kind of mentorship we offered him. He’s always been a great listener.”

Going into Tuesday, the Los Angeles Ballers, who also have LaMelo Ball, were 2-1. Los Angeles beat New York 134-124 to open the season at the Citizen’s Business Bank Arena in Ontario. The other win was a 150-145 shootout at Seattle.

JBA players can participate in the league through their age-21 season. Players receive a base salary of $3,000 per month, and they also see a 60% return on all of their jersey sales.

Phillips wears No. 8 with the Los Angeles Ballers.

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