A lifetime leader is recognized.
When an eight-person camera crew rolled in with Sue Phillips, the head coach at Archbishop Mitty High School (San Jose, California), at her team’s end-of-season banquet, many of her teammates were skeptical.
“The players were like, ‘Coach, is this serious?’” Phillips said.
The high schoolers were right to be skeptical, given the date of the banquet: April 1. But the film crew was there on behalf of Gatorade, who announced that night that Phillips has been recognized as their 2019 Gatorade Coaching Excellence Award winner.
“We established the Gatorade Coaching Excellence Award to honor the best and most dedicated high school coaches – and no one exemplifies this more than Sue Phillips,” said Jeff Kearney, Global Head of Sports Marketing for Gatorade. “Recognizing the 25+ years of hard work and dedication she’s done for the Archbishop Mitty basketball team and being able to share her story is a true honor for us.”
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Gatorade informed Phillips that she was a recipient of the award a few months ago. Phillips said she was “taken aback” by the email from Gatorade and had to read it “quite a few times” to let it sink in.
“What makes this incredibly special is it acknowledges my full body of work and ties in to the impact I’ve made on my current and former players,” Phillips said. “That’s truly why we do what we do, to make the most positive impact and influence on young people’s lives, whether that’s in the classroom or on the basketball court. It’s just an incredible honor and affirming.”
In her 25 years as a head coach at Mitty, Phillips has dominated in the Bay Area, winning 22 West Catholic Athletic League titles and 21 Central Coast Section titles. But her teams have done damage in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) state tournament, too, winning 12 NorCal and six CIF state championships.
But thanks to ESPN’s No.1 women’s basketball recruit, Stanford-bound forward Haley Jones, Phillips and Mitty has perhaps their best two-year run in these past two seasons. The Monarchs went a combined 54-4 in 2017-18 and 2018-19, including being ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation by Maxpreps in 2017-18 after going 29-1.
“We’re talking about an incredible run in terms of wins and losses,” Phillips said of Jones. “We won the Nike TOC [Tournament of Champions in Arizona], which essentially solidified our national championship [in 2017-18]. She was MVP of that tournament.”
Mitty participated in the Nike Tournament of Champions this season but had a team-wide health crisis, as six players were sent to the emergency room with the norovirus during the tournament. With only eight or nine girls playing in each game, Phillips said she was “amazed” that the Monarchs went 2-2, with the two losses being by a combined 10 points.
“A coach asked me, ‘Have you ever had something like this happen?’” Phillips said. “Well, we’ve had a kid with a fever or a nauseous stomach and had a bug that made them not feel great. We have never had six guys have to go to ER. That was insane.”
But Jones and the Monarchs got healthy again and rolled their way through the Bay Area, going undefeated through WCAL and CCS play. Phillips believes that Jones’ success in one of the Bay Area’s top leagues and most competitive section division is remarkable.
“Haley didn’t lose a single WCAL game,” Phillips said. “She had four straight Open Division CCS championships. She broke Kerri Walsh’s scoring record. It’s incredible when you think of the number of accomplishments, both individual and team, that she has elevated our program to national prominence.”
There will be one thing that Jones isn’t able to say she won in her high school career: a CIF state championship. But the 2013 realignment to add an “Open Division” as a state championship tournament, which takes the top 6-8 teams in both Northern and Southern California regardless of school size, can be to blame for that.
Mitty was in the Open Division all four years Jones played at the school, winning one NorCal title and losing the state championship game 44-40. And while the losses surely sting, Phillips believes that the person that Jones is means she doesn’t look back with any regrets.
“Haley has won her share of really big games, and in terms of individual accolades, it doesn’t get any better than Naismith and WBCA National Player of the Year, the Morgan Wooten award, McDonald’s All-American,” Phillips said. “As a coach, I couldn’t be more proud of the person who she is, not just the player.
She chuckled before adding, “Of course she’d love to have a state title, but she has a national championship.”
And now, Jones joins a long list of players who have gone on from playing for Phillips in Mitty’s program to play collegiately, including the fifth to play for a Pac-12 school. The last player to do so from Mitty, former UCLA guard Kelli Hayes, was on hand for this year’s banquet at Mitty as part of the Gatorade ceremony.
Phillips will be further honored at a Gatorade event in Los Angeles in July, around which time the film crew’s video should be released (like this one of 2018 honoree Marcia Pinder of Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida). But there’s one additional perk that caught the coach’s attention: the chance to walk on the red carpet at the ESPYs.
“I’m already thinking about what I’m going to wear and if I need to be pushing some stuff away at the dinner table,” Phillips cracked.
And while she’s sure to enjoy all of that, Phillips is a basketball coach through to her core, and the fact that she’s made the type of impact that she has is something she cherishes each and every day.
“We are standing by and teaching greater principles to our young people,” Phillips said. “And there’s no greater honor than that.”
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