February 22, 2023
Daejah Phillips stays consistent regardless of her role
The third-year guard is a driving force behind the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine.
Switching roles can be difficult for players, especially when they alternate between being in the starting lineup and coming off the bench. Being able to stay consistent regardless of role is key for player and team success and it’s not always easy. For Hawaii’s Daejah Phillips though, she’s mastered that art.
During her first season with the Rainbow Wahine back in 2020-21, Phillips came off the bench in 17 of the 21 games she played in and won the Big West Conference’s Sixth Player of the Year Award. That season she averaged 9.6 points per game, 5.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists while shooting just around 43 percent from the field.
Last season, Phillips alternated between starting and coming off the bench and this year she’s done the same. She began this season in the starting lineup but was moved to the bench following an early January game against Long Beach State. But whether she’s starting or running the second unit, there’s no question as to who is going to have the ball in their hands throughout the game.
“Basically when we need a bucket, I go get one,” Phillips told The Next. “I guard the best players out there and just play solid the whole game.”
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Phillips arrived at Hawaii almost three years ago as a highly-touted prospect out of Centennial High School in Las Vegas, Nev. For each of the four seasons that Phillips was at Centennial, the team won the Nevada state championship. She was named to the Nevada All-State First Team during her junior and senior seasons.
For some players, making an impact right away as a freshman in college basketball is a tough task. Phillips faced an even more difficult task. Her first season at Hawaii was during the 2020-21 season, right on the heels of the COVID-19 canceled 2019-20 season. That season was unlike any other as Hawaii was one of the teams that had to endure various pauses throughout the year due to COVID issues within their program and opposing teams.
Phillips was able to come in and make a major impact from the get-go, navigating what was probably the most bizarre season in college basketball to date. She credits Hawaii head coach Laura Beeman with helping her make a quick transition to the next level.
“When she was recruiting me, she told me that she would let me really do and play my game the way I want to play my game,” Phillips said. “It wasn’t a lie. When I came here I had the green light to do whatever I want to do. Me sharing the ball and also scoring when I need to score, it helps my team.”
When Phillips first arrived on campus, Beeman immediately knew she was ready to contribute. What stood out to her was Phillips’ willingness to be coached and desire to keep getting better. Under Beeman, Phillips has emerged as one of the top players in the Big West and was a key reason as to why Hawaii was picked to finish first in the conference in the preseason coaches poll.
It’s often said that a team’s point guard is an extension of the head coach on the court and for Beeman, Phillips is certainly that. The pair have developed a strong relationship, one that Beeman knows will continue even after Phillips’ time with the Rainbow Wahine comes to an end.
“Her maturity is amazing, the kid grows every year and we have a wonderful relationship. She’s just a kid that will be in my life forever,” Beeman told The Next. “Watching her grow both off and on the court is really special. She’s continuing to learn how to work hard, she’s continuing to learn how to be that great team player, I just see great things from her if she continues down the path she is.”
It can be difficult sometimes for point guards to find their balance on the court. Not only is a point guard expected to provide a steady offensive hand, but they also are tasked with being the primary playmaker. A point guard runs the offense and makes everything easier for the rest of the team.
Phillips has done a stellar job at finding that balance between knowing when to look for her shot and knowing when to make the pass and get her teammates easy scoring opportunities. Although her assist numbers (2.5 through three years at Hawaii) may not jump off the stat sheet, the defensive attention she draws combined with her court vision make her a tough problem for opposing defenses to solve.
Phillips also credits Hawaii associate head coach Alex Delanian with helping her find that balance.
“Coach Alex, he’ll kind of run set plays for me, or I’ll sit in the corner and if they come off of me I have the green light to shoot the three,” Phillips said. “If they want to close me out hot, then I have the green light to attack the basket. If the help side comes over, then I share the ball and assist my teammates.”
While the Rainbow Wahine were picked to finish first in the Big West, this season has been a little bit more of a roller coaster. They sport an overall record of 11-12 and are around the middle of the pack in conference play at 9-5. Anything can happen though in the single elimination conference tournament at the end of the season.
Hawaii recently had a three-game win streak which tied their longest streak of the season. They are playing much better than their early start to the season, something Phillips attributes to their renewed focus on the defensive end and improved shooting.
“Definitely our three-ball. I think we were struggling with that at the beginning,” Phillips said. “And I think our defense, we were giving up a lot of threes in the beginning. We’re not giving up as much threes now. We’re taking pride in our defense more.”
With the final stretch of the regular season winding down and the Big West Tournament inching closer, it’s that defense that the Rainbow Wahine are hoping will propel them through the conference and beyond.
Phillips and her teammates have already gotten a taste of the NCAA Tournament. They were last season’s Big West champions and fell in the first round against Baylor. They know that if they make a tournament appearance again this season, they likely will come in as a low seed and face a powerhouse team in the first round once again.
“It definitely gets us ready. The returners, we know how physical the Baylor’s and the Stanford’s and the South Carolina’s are,” Phillips said. “When we go at each other in practice, it’s because we’ve been there and we know. We want to get to the second round.”
While Phillips is in her third season at Hawaii, she is still considered a sophomore having her first season classified as a COVID year. And as for how she wants to end this season, the answer is quite simple.
“Win a Big West championship,” Phillips said. “And get further in the NCAA Tournament.”
Written by David Mendez-Yapkowitz
David has been with The Next team since the High Post Hoops days when he joined the staff in 2018. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the LA Sparks, Pac-12 Conference, Big West Conference and some high school as well.