David Cloniger, GamecockCentral.com
He knows he'll play tonight, but not very much. He knows that he's starting just because he's a senior, and Frank Martin's seniors start their final home game. A short time after tip, probably at the first media timeout, he'll go back to being a practice-squad walk-on.
That's OK. Shane Phillips never demanded playing time. He was always comfortable with what he was - maybe a walk-on, maybe a short kid with no basketball future, but part of the team.
"Lot of fun, lot of good memories in my five years here, so I'm looking forward to it," said Phillips, who will be honored along with forward Lakeem Jackson as seniors before tonight's game hosting Mississippi State. "It's going to be a good night, I can feel it."
The old man of the team, Phillips has actually been connected with the past three USC coaches. A guard from Pittsburgh by way of Wheeling, W.V., Phillips was recruited by Dave Odom as a preferred walk-on. Phillips accepted, then showed up at USC even when Odom retired after the season.
Phillips put together a highlight tape and handed it to new coach Darrin Horn, who kept Phillips as a walk-on with the practice squad. He never got in a game that season, but he figured at least he was on the team.
There wasn't room for Phillips the next two years, though, as the bench expanded. Phillips still stuck it out, joining the five-man practice squad that goes against the USC women's team every day in practice, and stayed there for two years.
Needing another body for practice and/or games, Horn came back around to Phillips in 2011-12. He was back on the team and got to play in one game (scoring one point), but then Horn was fired and Martin was hired.
"From the day I got here, I was told that he was a walk-on and he doesn't need a uniform," Martin said. "You're either on the team or not. If you're in the locker room, you're going to be held to the same expectations. That's what I told him, and he's been great."
Phillips could have left, perhaps going back home to play his final year for a smaller school, but decided to stay and be a part of Martin's first team at USC. He delayed his graduation so he could play his final year, and began setting an example for the rest of the team to follow in practice.
Martin noticed, and when he had an extra scholarship for this season, he awarded it to Phillips. "That speaks volumes of somebody," Martin said. "He could have graduated, but he chose to delay and stay. He wanted to be a part of what he experienced in the spring. I hope he can leave with a great experience. What he helped create, we can look back and be thankful with his efforts."
It hasn't been easy for Phillips. Everybody likes to win, especially a walk-on who will never get to share in the on-the-court glory. The Gamecocks had a great 21-win season in Phillips' first year on the team, but his last two years have seen a combined 23-37 record going into tonight's game.
Still, he's proud of what he's been a part of. Already graduated from USC with a degree in public relations, Phillips wants to be a coach someday, perhaps starting as a graduate assistant at USC.
"I would love to come back here as a GA if I could," Phillips said. "(Martin and I have) talked a little bit.
"We worked extremely hard this year, might not have got the results we needed. Looking back on it, there's nothing to be ashamed of. We worked hard. They're going to do great things here, I can feel it."
Phillips will get the start tonight, but said that he won't try to do any razzle-dazzle so he can get a basket before he checks out. One, he knows that Martin is never happy when a ballplayer tries to take over on offense, without passing the ball around.
And two, he doesn't need it. He'll be Shane Phillips, South Carolina basketball player, with his own jersey and own name on the back. No more of the random-ness of a practice jersey.
"I give (Odom and Horn) a lot of credit for giving me a chance," Phillips said. "I owe them a lot, and I owe coach Martin a lot. I'm very grateful, and very humbled to go out with Keem, one of my close friends.
"I've scored a lot of points in my life before. Getting one up is not important to me. I just want to the win the game."