Pressey takes game to new heights

A quick look at Phil Pressey's vitals leads to an equally quick CliffsNotes analysis.

Take 5-foot-10, 162 pounds and crossmatch that against his ESPNU 100 ranking as the nation's No. 31 high school senior (No. 7 point guard), and the presumption is … dude must be lightning quick. Bet he can run circles around folks.

Survey says sure enough. But go deeper for the whole truth on Paul Pressey's son.

Turns out, "Skateboard P" has quite a bag of now-you-see-him-now-you-don't tricks, but there's also this: He'll go over your head in a heartbeat if need be. How else might the future Missouri Tiger average more than seven rebounds, and block shots like a joker?

Take it from Episcopal School of Dallas coach Corey Henderson:

"He plays above the rim when he has to, or needs do. Of course with that size, he has to be extremely quick and fast, but he's got exceptional ability and can jump and finish. He's going to fill every [statistical] category. If he needs to get 20 rebounds, then he's going to get 20 rebounds.

"There have been games where he's rebounded the ball over 6-7, 6-8 guys and taken it coast-to-coast and scored. There were games where he would leave with 15 [points], 15 [rebounds], eight steals, six blocks, just crazy. He's going up in transition and cleaning glass against guys who thought they had easy layups."

Pressey's got genes. His father was a guard-forward for the NBA's Bucks, Spurs and Warriors from 1983 to 1993, and is an assistant with the Hornets. Some consider him an originator of the "point forward" position.

One of Phil's older sisters, Angela, was perhaps the best volleyball player in Cal history, and even as a 5-8 outsider hitter (undersized for the spot) aspires to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. She's playing professionally in Puerto Rico.

Older brother Matt is a 6-2 shooting guard at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas.

Plus, contrary to presumption, Phil Pressey's height has worked for him. Dad says it was quite the motivational tool when Phil was a lad.

"He was the smallest of all the kids, and not just his immediate family, but his cousins and everybody," Paul Pressey said. "It was always a challenge for him to prove that size didn't matter."

Almost every night, Phil would do hundreds of calf raises to help his hops. And his mother, Elizabeth, said, "He always played up, with bigger kids. His size is what he got, and it didn't affect him because it was what he knew."

It hardly matters now that he's got a 39-inch or so vertical leap, sick desire and precocious senses of perspective and anticipation.

"I don't really think it's relevant now," Phil said. "When I was younger, people would talk about my size, but not any more."

Now folks talk about his mad skills not just with a basketball in his hands, but in his ability to see, orchestrate and more. Pressey averaged 19 points, 10 assists and four steals last season for Episcopal (27-5) as it held its own against highly acclaimed huge public schools in the Southwest Preparatory Conference.

"He really understands the game, how to get people shots, how to run a team," Henderson said. "When you have a floor general, somebody who can control the pace of the game without even taking a shot, that's special. He's a true point. He's able to change a game without scoring, but he also has that knack to create scoring opportunities for himself.

"He's a good mix between [Pacers point guard] T.J. Ford and [Hornets point guard] Chris Paul. Phil puts winning over everything. There have been games where he could care less about scoring 20. He could average two, but as long as we win, that's what he's about."

The youngest Pressey is about hoops.

"He's always been a gym rat," his father said. "When he was young, he always had a ball in his hand, whether a basketball, tennis, soccer, volleyball. He was always trying to figure out what the ball could do in spinning it, bouncing it, trying to figure out different ways he could be creative.

"At the time I didn't think about it, just a boy playing ball. As he got older, you could see him using different English off a wall … and he could see what it does, how it changes directions. It carried over to basketball in terms of spinning the ball on glass, or with bounce passes. These last three or four years, I've caught Phillip sleeping with a basketball."

True story. If you don't find Pressey working out, practicing, playing, dribbling a tennis ball at home, "because I read Steve Nash does it," or doing school work, it's probably because he's sleeping … with a ball.

"Some nights, I just toss it up [while lying in bed]," he said, "or it's good to know it's there. Pretty much whenever I go out of town, I got to have a basketball."

The Presseys know about traveling.

Phil transferred to Episcopal from the Boston area after his father left the Celtics, for whom he was an assistant, and joined the Hornets.

His parents made Dallas home because there are many family members in the area, it's a short commute to New Orleans and it's close to Matt at Navarro.

When Phil Pressey chose Missouri over Arizona, Baylor, UCLA and other schools, it didn't make sense to some outsiders. It made perfect sense to the insiders.

Missouri coach Mike Anderson was Paul Pressey's college roommate at Tulsa.

"I think that Phillip had a connection in that our kids grew up together for seven or eight years, though it was kind of a distant relationship, like an uncle," Paul Pressey said. "Me and Coach Anderson were teammates in college, and during the summer when I was playing pro we would spend our summers together with our kids.

"When our season was over, we'd drive from Milwaukee, and they'd drive up from Arkansas [where Anderson was an assistant]. We'd meet in Branson, Mo., and we'd do the Bass Pro shop, Silver Dollar City, float down the river with our kids, barbecue outside, go antique shopping, to music shops. We had five or six families."

Said Phil, who doesn't always say a lot, "I had a good connection with the head coach, and I thought it was the best fit for me."

Dad said, "I know coach Anderson is going to take care of him, help him be a young man."

Phil Pressey is off to a lightning-fast start and playing above the rim in that game, too.

"He's a good person, and a great teammate," Henderson said. "He'll take what some people would consider the team's worst player and make him feel like he's the best, spend time with that kid versus hanging out with the better players. He's got a special ability to make everyone around him better, feel special.

"Last year, he called and asked if I would mind him getting my son Corey, who is 14, and taking him to the gym. With his prestige, for him to do that was pretty special for me and for my son. That says a lot about his personality. And he does that not only with my son, but with other kids who are a lot younger. It speaks volumes about him as a person."

Matt Winkeljohn left the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after spending 21 years there. He can be reached at mattwinkeljohn@yahoo.com.