Pressey adjusting to new basketball life in Dallas

DALLAS -- For junior Phil Pressey, the transition game has meant moving halfway across the country, at least getting to live with one of his parents again.

Goodbye to the boarding school near Boston, where in two seasons at Cushing Academy (Ashburnham, Mass.) he turned heads as a diminutive point guard playing against much of the best high school competition in New England. Hello to the Episcopal School of Dallas, which plays in a league of elite academic schools that do not offer nearly the quality of basketball he previously faced.

Pressey's mother wouldn't have it any other way.

"I know he has the athletic ability to carry himself to the next level," said Liz Pressey, who moved to Dallas this past summer. "I first looked at public schools because they had the best basketball programs. This is a better fit for Phil coming from boarding school. This will provide the same environment as college."

His biggest adjustment on the court? "More size here," said the son of New Orleans Hornets assistant coach Paul Pressey. "More guards there."

And the biggest adjustment at his new school? "Wearing a uniform."

With Pressey in an ESD uniform, topped by a Nike headband, the Eagles are 18-5 and figure to repeat as champions of the Southwest Preparatory Conference's Division I. Pressey, at 5-foot-9, is averaging 19 points and 10 assists, and he put on impressive displays against top-notch teams from the public school University Interscholastic League during preconference play.

Pressey scored 21 points to lead ESD to a 77-62 victory over Lancaster, currently ranked sixth in the state in Class 4A. He scored 27 in a 73-71 loss to 5A Bowie (Arlington) and 31 in 61-43 loss to 5A DeSoto.

Thirty-one of his team's 43? He was practically apologetic when asked to explain.

"We lost our big man early," he said with a shrug.

Paul Pressey has been an NBA figure since 1982 as a player, assistant coach and scout. Paul left the Boston Celtics' staff in 2007 to join the Hornets. Phil and brother Matt, two years ahead of him in school, remained at Cushing last season when Paul and Liz headed to Louisiana.

Matt graduated last spring and now plays at Navarro College, a two-year school located about 60 miles southeast of Dallas. Liz decided to move to Dallas, where she has family, and have Phil join her rather than trying to find a high school for him in New Orleans.

"I'm still crying about the move," Cushing coach Barry Connors said. "He's the best we've ever had."

Similar praise has greeted Pressey in Texas. When ESD coach Corey Henderson was asked to identify the strengths and weaknesses of Pressey's game, he struggled to identify one of the latter.

"His shooting at times, but he's shooting a pretty good percentage this year," said Henderson, who played at Texas A&M in the early 1990s. "He has the ability to run a team, to get to the basket anytime he wants, to change the whole dynamics of the game with the ball and on the defensive end."

"He's probably sped us up," said ESD senior center Jeff Georgatos, who will next play for Harvard. "Defensively, he nags people a lot."

The Southwest Preparatory Conference is comprised of 18 small private schools in the major population centers of Texas and Oklahoma. Jeff Zimmerman, coach of the SPC's Kinkaid School (Houston), saw enough in last week's game against the Eagles to declare Pressey the best player in the league.

"He's already one of the five best players in Texas," Zimmerman said. And he wasn't talking about just the SPC. "He's in total control."

Liz Pressey began her Dallas relocation last season. She heard good things about ESD and Henderson, and then watched a game. She liked the way Henderson carried himself during a game and interacted with his players. She later dropped by his office and suggested he log on to YouTube. There, he found a shot of this little guy dunking in an AAU game.

It wasn't long before Phil was enrolled at ESD, where the gym features about 10 rows of bleachers along one side of the court. Connors said he told Liz multiple times that Phil would be moving backward in basketball competition by playing for ESD, but he added he wasn't surprised that she followed through.

"I used to talk to Mrs. Pressey every week; she never once asked about basketball," Connors said. "It was always, 'How's he doing in the dorm? How are his grades? Is he eating OK? Does he miss me?' Never, 'How's Phil playing?'"

Liz said neither of the Pressey boys was pushed into playing basketball, but they and their two older sisters were strongly encouraged to play sports. She and Paul met as basketball players at Western Texas Junior College in the late '70s, and then they moved on to the University of Tulsa, where Paul played for Nolan Richardson.

"The team environment is good for you," she said. "It allows you to stay focused after school."

Paul's career has made it difficult for him to watch any of his children play high school or college sports. He said he has seen Phil play once for ESD, when in Dallas for a family funeral. Even when the Hornets made their first trip to Dallas a few weeks ago, there was time only for an early dinner.

"We talk just about every other day," Paul said, "but it's mostly about school."

When recruiting heats up, Paul said he'll emphasize that Phil choose a school where he matches up with the coach's system. Phil, who played summer ball for the Boston Area Basketball Club, will need to choose a new summer team after the high school season. Then he plans to narrow a fuzzy list of college preferences from eight or 10 to about five.

Until then, he'll keep adjusting to his new surroundings on and off the court. Living with Mom might be the biggest change following two years of boarding school.

"We have our battles," Liz said, "but he likes home cooking."

Jeff Miller is a freelance writer in Texas and can be reached at miller.jeff55@gmail.com.