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Andrew Phillips emerging as key piece for Malvern Prep

12/19/2021, 6:45pm EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

Andrew Phillips didn’t have much of a chance to prepare for the 2021-22 basketball season. 

Back in April, the Malvern Prep junior was playing in the Hoop Group Pitt Jam Fest with his travel organization, South Jersey Hoops Elite, when he got tripped up during a transition opportunity. He braced himself with his left arm, but the resulting impact snapped his collarbone. 

Two days and an agonizing car drive across the Keystone State later, Phillips underwent surgery at CHOP, cutting short a hoops-filled summer before it ever got going. And as soon as he was healthy, four months later, it was football season, where the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Phillips plays defensive end for the Friars.

Malvern Prep junior Andrew Phillips (above) was out all summer with a broken collarbone. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

So it wasn’t until mid-November that Phillips finally got on the court again.

“Really, my first experience of seeing him play was the first day of tryouts, of seeing him play live basketball,” Malvern’s first-year head coach Paul Romanczuk said. “And I went ‘whoa, we definitely have something we can work with here.’”

That gave Phillips all of about two weeks not just to get ready for a return to the hardwood but also to learn a new system. Romanczuk, a Penn alum who had plenty of success (including a state championship) in a 15-year run at Archbishop Carroll, has a different approach than the run-and-gun style played under former Friars coach John Harmatuk, who left to take over the Phelps School program this past offseason, a year after guiding Malvern Prep to the 2020 Inter-Ac championship.

“It was a little rough at first, getting used to the offense and all that stuff,” Phillips said. “[But] we play harder, play better defense, focus on defense a little more. It’s been awesome, I love it, it’s great.”

Phillips certainly looked like he was back in form on Sunday, as the junior wing forward led the way with a career-best 23 points in a 64-44 win over Life Center (N.J.) at Cristo Rey High School.

He came out of the gate strong with 10 points in the opening quarter, including a pair of 3-pointers, added eight more points in the third quarter (after one bucket in the second) as the Friars opened a lead as big as 32 points, and finished off his afternoon with a tough three-point play in the fourth.

“Our last game vs. Devon Prep got cancelled, so we wanted to come out with a bang,” Phillips said. “We saw this team, they were talented, we just thought we played harder and better; that’s what we did, we came out stronger.”

Phillips’ buckets came in a variety of ways, including a smooth reverse-layup, by attacking the rim in transition, and getting to the foul line, where he hit all five of his free-throws. He was 8-of-13 from the floor, including 2-of-3 from deep. Even against a Life Center frontcourt that featured 6-9 Landon Shivers (13 points, four blocks) and 6-7 Justin Hawkins (19 points, six rebounds), Phillips was able to play physical inside and connect from the mid-range.

Phillips (above) said he's been focusing this season on being a better defender.
(Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

“He’s very skilled, as you can see,” Romanczuk said. “Really understands the game and has a skill level that provides himself and others with good opportunities out on the court there. He can shoot the basketball; he’s learning and he’s getting better on the defensive end.”

After playing a significant role as a bench player as a sophomore for Malvern Prep (4-3), Phillips has moved into the starting lineup full-time this season, averaging 12 ppg coming into Sunday’s matchup. It’s the second time in a few months he’s made the move into the starting lineup, as he also started the final five games of the football season due to a senior’s injury.

Malvern Prep won the Inter-Ac’s football title this fall, giving the Friars a little bit of momentum heading into the hoops season, with Phillips and fellow junior Hayden Pegg, a starting outside linebacker, both in the starting five on the hoops squad as well.

“I think winning is contagious; winning breeds winning, and when you’ve got guys that are used to winning, and won’t accept losing, I do think there’s something to that,” Romanczuk said. “I was thrilled, I was really excited that they went and took care of business and won the Inter-Ac in football. That can only help us out in basketball.”

Ryan Williams (above) dunks home two of his 19 points in Sunday's win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Phillips wasn’t the only Friar to shine in Sunday’s win. Sophomore guard Ryan Williams, the team’s leading scorer at 17.8 ppg entering play this weekend, finished with 19 points (7-16 FG, 5-6 FT) despite an uncharacteristic 0-for-4 performance from the 3-point arc. The 6-2 guard with a Temple offer, who’s turning into one of the area’s top young guards, also flirted with a triple-double, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out a season-best seven assists.

Romanczuk, who’s coached a number of talented prospects in his days, sees a bright future ahead.

“He really has a lot of potential; the upside is sky-high,” Romanczuk said. “He’s going to get better and better, and I’m thrilled to have him with me and to be coaching him.”

With Williams, Phillips and 6-8 Babson commit Tyler Lauder — who grabbed 10 rebounds on Sunday but didn’t need to do much offensively, taking just two shots — leading the way, Malvern Prep plans on being right in the mix in the six-team Inter-Ac this spring, a year after most of the programs played an incomplete schedule due to COVID. 

The path won’t be easy: Springside Chestnut Hill and Penn Charter are both off to strong starts this season, while Haverford School and Episcopal have had encouraging results as well.

“It’s looking pretty tough this year but I think we just play tougher and harder than a lot of these teams,” Phillips said. “Maybe they can be more athletic than us, but with our defense and our ability, scoring-wise, I think we should win it. 

“I’m not trying to be cocky — Springside looks good, Penn Charter looks good, EA, they look pretty good too,” he added. “It’s who’s going to work harder and who’s going to play better defense.”

By Quarter
Malvern Prep:  24  |  14  |  18  |   8   ||  64
Life Center:       9   |   9   |  11  |  15  ||  44

Malvern Prep: 22-55 FG (8-21 3PT), 12-16 FT
Life Center: 19-52 FG (4-19 3PT), 2-2 FT

Malvern Prep: Andrew Phillips 23, Ryan Williams 19, Joey Vandergeest 12, Ryan Pegg 3, Chase Reardon 3, Hayden Pegg 2, Tyler Lauder 1, Tague Davis 1

Life Center: Justin Hawkins 19, Landon Shivers 13, Amaahd Roberts 7, Reggie Dillard 4, Keith Brown Jr. 2

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Tag(s): Home  Josh Verlin  Scores + Standings  Inter-Ac  Malvern Prep  High School