Twin magic: Phillips sisters shine for Cambridge
Cambridge coach Tony Bochette huddles up his team for a final talk before the Indians take the floor. Bochette and the girls talk over strategy and search their mind to think of what they called a specific defense.
With Cambridge unbeaten and the Red Raiders with a single loss, the stakes are high.
Bochette remembered it as a certain name, but freshman guard Sophie Phillips speaks up with a different thought on what the defense was called.
Quickly, the rest of the team sides with Phillips, knowing the ninth grader knows the game like the back of her hand.
After some discussion, the team figures out their coach was right after all. But the moment is a glimpse of the trust that Sophie, and her twin sister Lilly, have gained from their teammates.
It may seem cliche to say that the girls have been around the game since birth, but it's not far from the truth when it comes to the Phillips twins.
Bob Phillips, Sophie and Lilly's father and Cambridge's assistant varsity/head junior varsity girls coach, has been bringing his daughters to games since they were infants.
"We were taking them to games as early as they were six months old," Bob Phillips said. "When I was coaching the boys, we just brought them to games and they would play in the bleachers. They were just exposed to it and it just developed. Whether it was basketball or softball or baseball or soccer, it's been a lot of fun. They've been around it."
Both Bob and his wife Edith were athletes. Bob played college baseball, along with basketball throughout high school, and his wife Edith played college basketball at SUNY-Cortland.
It was only natural that the twins were immediately exposed to the game.
"Our parents had us play when we were younger, so we just played ever since and we just loved it," Sophie Phillips said. "They played all of their lives, so when we were little, they would always have us come to their practices."
Anyone who has siblings can understand being competitive with their brother or sister — that goes double when you're a twin.
In anything they did together, both Lilly and Sophie wanted to be the best. If one took the lead over the other, the other would work hard to close the gap. Along the way, both would get better.
"When one kind of got the jump on something, the other one would feel the need to catch up and even leap-frog. They would get to a point to where they were super competitive in sports more than anything," Bob Phillips said. "They would just play one-on-one with each other in the driveway and ask me to come out. One would hit, one would pitch in softball. It's kind of a twin thing they had going and it was a lot of fun. It was one of those deals where they would just push each other."
That constant push they received from one another made them into the impressive athletes they are today.
Now freshmen at Cambridge Central School, people across the area are starting to see the talent they possess.
As eighth-graders last year, both saw time playing at the varsity level. In 16 games on varsity last year, Sophie had seven double-digit point outings.
A year later, and the two have taken their game to another level, becoming the key offensive threats for the Indians.
Sophie is Cambridge's leading scorer this year, averaging 13.8 points per game, while Lilly isn't far behind at 13 points per game.
Now firmly in starting roles for the Indians, the two have enjoyed their time so far being able to play on the same court.
"It's really fun to play with her because we know each other better and it's fun," Lilly Phillips said.
The two seem to work off of each other and its clear that there's an unspoken connection out on the court.
"They always seem to have each other's back. If Sophie deflects the ball, it's Lilly that gets it. If Lilly deflects the ball, it's Sophie that gets it," Bochette said. "I know it's kind of cliche to say twins have that mental telepathy, but you see examples of it all the time. Geez, maybe they do."
Bochette really doesn't need to worry about the little things with the Phillips twins. There are times when he's going over matchups and he'll just leave it up to them on who they're covering.
"If Sophie's tired because she's defending the number one scorer, Lilly goes and takes her without me even talking about it," Bochette said. "In our zone, one of them needs to be on the point, one of them needs to be on the wing. All of a sudden the opposite one's on the point and the other is on the wing and it's been seamless. Nobody has said anything, they're there and it works out really well. They always seem to have each other's back."
On top of making waves at Cambridge, they also have competed in AAU and in the Empire State Takeover.
The Empire State Takeover (EST) is an elite high school summer basketball league for players in Upstate New York and the surrounding area to compete with some of best players around. The league enters its fourth season this upcoming summer. More than 40 players who have competed in the EST have gone on to compete at the collegiate level. That number figures to be even higher moving forward, as many girls from the Class of 2018 have made verbal commitments to colleges, and one has to assume that will only grow as the league expands.
Basketball isn't just a December to March hobby for the twins. It's something they eat, sleep and breathe.
The twins competed in the league last summer and were on the Next Big Thing team. Three other players from the Wasaren League were on their team, including sophomore Logan Thayne of Hoosick Falls, and Tamarac senior Kayla Doody and junior Renna Poulin.
"That was really awesome because we were put on a team with most of the people in our league, the standouts in the league," Sophie Phillips said. "It was really fun to play with them and now play against them."
Their talents haven't even been contained to just New York either.
Sophie, in particular, has had national recognition for her shooting ability. She competed in last year's Elks Hoop Shoot and her shooting prowess earned her a trip to the national championship of the competition in Chicago.
Sophie was representing Greenwich Elks Lodge No. 2223 and ended up winning the girls 12-13-year-old competition at DePaul University's McGrath Arena. She made 24 out of 25 free throws to tie with one other person in her age group. She then made all five of her shots in the tie-breaker to win the national title.
For her efforts, Sophie earned a trip to the Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony in Springfield, Mass., and her name is now inscribed on a plaque in the hall of fame.
Being able to compete was something Sophie will never forget.
"It was really, really fun being able to go out there and shoot against the top foul shooters," she said. "It was a really good experience, especially knowing that you can actually do that if you work hard at it."
With the twins' obvious talent, they have garnered a great deal of respect from their teammates. Just freshmen, the possibility of some negative feelings from the older players that their spot might be taken is there, but that could not be farther from the truth.
"It's not usual for two girls to come in with the basketball knowledge they have and with the ability to be leaders without being abrasive," Bochette said. "A lot of times there's that concern you have when freshman come up that the older girls are going to be resentful and they're not. They're here for team first, and yeah their numbers are going to be high because they're talented, but they're going to make the right pass. They're going to do what's right for the team and that garners the respect of everybody."
Out of Cambridge's 10 players, five are seniors. The twins, along with classmate Fiona Mooney, are the only freshmen. Sophie and Lilly have learned a lot from the older players.
"They definitely showed us how to handle the level. When we first came up, they showed us, this is the level of play," Sophie Phillips said. "If you messed up, it's fine, just keep playing, keep shooting if you're off."
The two groups have meshed seamlessly and that has a lot do with how close they have become.
"It helped because we played soccer with a lot of them too," Lilly Phillips said. "We knew how they like to win. They would always be there and they would help us."
The twins will never be confused for the loudest people on the court, but they don't have to be. Their basketball knowledge and their play speaks volumes. Their quiet confidence rubs off on their teammates and it makes everyone better.
"The funny thing is we're not even a rah-rah team," Bochette said. "Probably the loudest, most obnoxious person is me, so it's interesting to see the dynamics of the team because we have leaders, but we don't have a vocal leader. Everybody kind of just follows their lead because they know that what they're doing is right and they know the Phillips girls know basketball."
It's not only the seniors who are teaching the Phillips twins. In many instances, it can be the other way around. A teammate will come to them looking to work on a specific skill or how to handle a certain situation on the court and the Phillips' are more than happy to help.
In the end, that's what their father Bob is most proud about. Sure, the twins are talented and they'll succeed on the court, but it's their love for teammates and constantly looking to improve the people around them that makes them truly special.
"The thing I'm most proud about is that they like to play with other kids and be good teammates and in response, hopefully make their teammates better," Bob Phillips said. "I know they look to do that, and they look to while do that, have fun with their teammates. That's always something they enjoyed."
Back in the gym, the Phillips twins go. One pass at a time, one shot a time, enjoying their time with teammates and playing the game they love.
Adam Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at @AAucoin_Banner on Twitter.
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