Tari Phillips Q & A – New York Liberty
Tari Phillips’ breakout 2000 season with the New York Liberty brought her instant recognition. After limited action backing up Orlando’s Taj McWilliams – Franklin, the 6’2″ forward was traded to Portland and then to the Liberty. She arrived just before the first game of the season. Phillips’ quickly established herself as a force on the team, leading the Liberty in rebounding and points per game. The Eastern Conference coaches voted her on to the All-Star team, and the league honored her as the WNBA’s Most Improved Player. She helped lead New York to the Championship finals, where she averaged 22pts and 11 rebounds a game, in a losing effort.. It’s a loss that, 9 months later, still aches.
WB: Thinking back to the Championship last season, what goes through your mind?
Phillips: Do I have to? (Laughs) Lots of everything: the shots that didn’t fall, the box outs that didn’t happen, call that didn’t go your way, fouls that were called that maybe you really, truly didn’t deserve…. You think about all of those things.
WB: What are your goals this season?
Phillips: I want to strive to be the best player in this league. And doing that, I want to win a Championship with my team. It’s going to be hard. But who wants anything that’s going to be easy? Boy do I want to earn it. When I step up and win a Championship, I want it to be just as rewarding a winning a Gold medal. It’s hard to talk about, because being there last year, and not winning…. But still, going there, and seeing how it is, how you could feel, and what it could be…. That’s my motivation. I look at that and say, “That’s what I want. Right there.”
WB: What does Head Coach Richie Adubato bring to the Liberty?
Phillips: He’s a motivator. He’s your biggest fan and your biggest critic. He’s going to let you know things you’re doing wrong, but he also gives you the ability and insight to want to go out there and do the right thing. If he points out something wrong to you, in the same breath – (laughs) or shortly thereafter – he will point out something that is sincerely your strongest point – and why you should do this, and why you should do that. It does wonders for the players, because you don’t think about that.
He will make you want to go out there and work hard. To strive to be the best you can be. And to pull out your best attributes out on the court. Not only that, but look for the best attributes of your teammates. And finding that connection on the court. That’s essential for a basketball team — for us – to have that kind of leadership and direction from him.
WB: What goes through your mind when you hear about season ending injuries like the ones to Sheryl Swoopes (Houston) and Adrienne Johnson (Orlando)?
Phillips: I just recently talked to both of them. It lets you know that you always have to do preventive things. And even that’s not always enough. A lot of that has to do with playing out there and getting to know your body very well. Over the past few years, I’ve tried to listen to how I feel – the little aches and pains. Little minor things that may be a contributing factor to an injury that could sideline me for a while. If I take off too fast or I overextend and I pull something – the key is recognizing that and to do what you can to heal that pull – (if not) the next thing you know it becomes a major injury.
When I think about Sheryl, or Adrienne, or Rebecca (Lobo) – to have to go through something like that before the season, before training camp, it takes its toll. It makes me think I’ve been pretty blessed as a player. I think it’s a gift to come out here and do something that you love. To go out there on the court and perform at a high, high, high, elite level of basketball puts a lot of strain on your body. It makes you susceptible to injuries. So you do everything you can to be in “prevention mode” all the time.
Tari Phillips’ breakout 2000 season with the New York Liberty brought her instant recognition. After limited action backing up Orlando’s Taj McWilliams – Franklin, the 6’2″ forward was traded to Portland and then to the Liberty. She arrived just before the first game of the season. Phillips’ quickly established herself as a force on the team, leading the Liberty in rebounding and points per game. The Eastern Conference coaches voted her on to the All-Star team, and the league honored her as the WNBA’s Most Improved Player. She helped lead New York to the Championship finals, where she averaged 22pts and 11 rebounds a game, in a losing effort.
WB: Last season, your were a last minute addition to the Liberty. Coming in now, does New York and the team feel more like home?
Phillips: Ever since last year, when I got that call from Blaze (Liberty GM Carol Blazejowski), and she expressed to me how they were so ready for me to come and be a part of their family, a part of their team…. I still feel that. And that makes me feel more at home than anything. Every team has its rough spots, but it’s that desire to want to come back and finish something that you started…. I really thank Blaze and Richie and the Liberty for welcoming me back. Even thought I felt I didn’t… Whenever you lose the big one, you always go back and say, “I could have done this and that. And, a lot of those things are true. (Laughs) But, just them expressing their desire for me to come to the Liberty – it’s still heartfelt and warm. I will always cherish that.
WB: You missed all of Liberty training camp last season and had to learn much of the Liberty system on the fly. This year, though you came to camp late because your team in Spain was in the playoffs, you’ve participated in most of the practices. What’s it like being part of this season’s camp?
Phillips: I have some sense of what camp is with the Liberty. Knowing them, playing with them, going to the Championship with my team made it an easier transition (from playing in Spain). If you’re in “playoff mode” and you come into preseason, that can be hard, because you need to be in the learning stages, the developing stages, instead of being in “playoff mode.” Where there is no room for mistakes because every mistake is costly.
I have more time to make some mistakes and corrections. Being able to come in early and be part of training camp is just that: you’re in training. You’re allowed to practice and re-practice and digest a lot of things (Head Coach) Richie (Adubato) want. And he actually gets a chance to look at the team before we actually step on the court.
WB: What’s the energy at Liberty practices?
Phillips: We have players…. (Laughs) When we come in to practice, you’re thinking about getting back on someone who the day before got one up on you. (Laughs) It’s an essential tool for building character. Building that intensity and that overall “fight” mode. It means that when we step out on the court to play against an opponent, and that ring’s out there for you grab, and your opponent is really and truly your opponent, you shouldn’t have any qualms about taking them down. (Laughs) After the game, we love you. We’ll take you out to dinner, we’ll give you some ice for that eye. Before the game? I don’t know you.
WB: Is there a particular player in the WNBA who tests your skills?
Phillips: Every team has those players. I’m a post player, but you’ll find me guarding guards. The game is so up pace and high tempo — if you’re a team, you’re going to help out when there’s a gap. So, maybe you find yourself not in the position you’re accustomed to. How are you going to perform? That is so important. I pride myself on that. If there’s a switch ad I find myself having to guard a guard, am I going to be up to the task? Am I going to make sure that they don’t look at that situation as, “OK, this is an opportunity for us to get some easy points.” No way. NO WAY.
WB: Before playing in Spain you were in Turkey. Didn’t you have to leave your team in Turkey and come back to the States because of an injury?
Phillips: To be honest, it was one of the first times I’ve actually felt something was not right. It was alarming – I know women are susceptible to ACL’s…. So, if you have constant pain, or get hit – sometimes you get bruising, but how do you truly know? Those are the things you have to think about when you do that (leave Turkey). Because no one is exempted from injury.
For me, I always say a prayer – not only for me, but for all the women who are playing competitively around the league – as well as the young basketball players who’s out there. Just a silent prayer of thanks – to be able to come out and do my job and not hurt myself. And to play with the sportsmanship and competitiveness – to play at the level that you want to play at. You exert your body, you move differently, you take chances and you extend your body. We really ask our bodies to do a lot.