Sometimes a thing is too important to walk away from. Sometimes, despite other available opportunities, the difficult choice is the one best suited for you. In this case, St. Louis local and Vashon High School graduate Phillip Russell decided to forgo other opportunities and take the hard road by walking on at Saint Louis University for Travis Ford.
With no scholarship to offer, as all 13 are currently spoken for, Russell is in a unique situation. He is by no means not worthy of a scholarship but was on the outside looking in with the math just not lining up. However, his resolve to join “Team Blue” has become clear with his announcement to join the program anyway.
He may have fit into the scholarship situation in any other year, but with the focus on bigs for the recruiting class of 2020, he was on the outside looking in. Having been on the Billikens radar for a considerable amount of time, I am told the coaching staff had been interested in the 5’10” point guard before his original commitment to SEMO. Once decommited from the Redhawks due to a coaching change in Cape Girardeau, the opportunity to become a Billiken became clearer.
Phillip will have the opportunity to fit in on the Billikens roster as the #2 point guard immediately, something very few walk-ons can do at the D-1 level. While he may not garner much playing time in his freshman year, he will undoubtedly earn the time to moving forward. In the meantime, he fits in as a perfect practice partner for fellow point guard, and cousin Yuri Collins.
Last season SLU struggled to find playmaking opportunities on offense when Collins was on the bench, in Russell the Billikens may have found an option to help spell those minutes. While Phillip has been praised for his shooting and body control around the rim, he is most known for his leadership, court vision, and grit. While grit is undoubtedly a defining attribute to the #TeamBlue attitude, his other skills are certainly something the Bills offense could use.
Very little is known or is being made known about exactly how Phillip will be attending SLU. While it is not precisely essential or relevant to the personal financial situation of how a young person can attend university, It can be assumed some sort of academic scholarship is being made available to him. In that instance, I am told that Athletic Director Chris May and Senior Associate Director of Athletics Dr. Janet Oberle were directly involved with ensuring every part of the recruitment was above board.
Phillips signing at SLU shows us some fascinating insights into potential trends taking place in Midtown, some relating to the post-pandemic basketball world and some to the prestige of the program Travis Ford is building. For starters, I am told that Phillip Russell’s joining the program was a direct result of his desire to join “Team Blue,” and had he not been so committed and persistent, it likely wouldn’t have happened. While the program was exciting to him, the math simply wasn’t lining up, and they wouldn’t have asked him to join in these conditions usually.
There is a movement in St. Louis basketball, or a desire perhaps, to join Travis Ford’s program at SLU, unlike anything we’ve quietly seen this century. Now more than ever, Saint Louis University feels truly like St. Louis’ school. At the very least, it feels as such in a basketball sense. Current players are actively recruiting future prospects from the area, and more and more, you see potential future players in the stands speaking out about their excitement for the program. Worst case scenario, there are very few top-end players in the area who don’t at least consider SLU.
It’s an auspicious start for a program that was looking to a.) gain prominence in the region and b.) become a premier mid-major program nationally.
This local popularity also bodes well in the coming years should the forecast of prospects staying close to home in the post-Covid19 world. With high schoolers already not looking for reasons to stay home and join SLU, having the added benefit of staying close to home now may push the local market even closer to home.
The long and the short of this situation is, Phillip Russell had options. He very well could have signed elsewhere, he had offers from at least four other D1 schools. Albeit none close to the level SLU is at, it may have been simpler going that route. In another year, he may have been a Billiken sooner, and he may get a scholarship eventually as I am told that there may be an opportunity to be given one of the three scholarships that would become available in the year 2021, though nothing is for sure.
Phil bet on himself. He took a leap and joined the program he felt best for him, personal sacrifice and all. That should already make him a fan favorite among Bills faithful.