March 10, 2009

Pressey hopes to follow in father's footsteps

While ignoring the taunts from his older brother Matt, Phil Pressey would perform 400 calf raises on a step in his house before going to bed each night.

"My brother used to make fun of me for doing them," Pressey said. "He was just like, 'That doesn't do anything.' "

The exercises, though, paid off. With an impressive 39-inch vertical leap, the Episcopal School of Dallas point guard owns an extensive dunking repertoire and has pulled down seven rebounds a game this season. Ranked 42nd in the Rivals150 for the class of 2010, Pressey has skills that belie his 5-foot-9 height.

Pressey's ability to play larger than his size should come as no surprise. His father, Paul Pressey, is an assistant coach with the New Orleans Hornets and played 11 seasons in the NBA. As one of the NBA's first point forwards, the 6-5 Pressey covered taller players like Julius Erving, Bernard King, George Gervin and Larry Bird while initiating coach Don Nelson's offense.

"I was an extension of the head coach," said Paul, who averaged 10.6 points, 5.6 assists and 3.9 rebounds. "I was a playmaker. My first objective was to get my teammates involved."

Phil, who averaged 19 points, 10 assists and four steals heading into the Southwest Preparatory Conference Tournament won by Episcopal, possesses similar playmaking ability and court awareness. Akin to how Nelson viewed Paul, Episcopal coach Corey Henderson praised Phil's basketball IQ, calling him a coach on the floor.

"He sees plays developing before they even happen," Henderson said. "He is the general. He is the floor leader."

Though Phil has his father's basketball savvy, Paul said his son's ball-handling along with his quickness are better than his own. During the 2008 Arlington Classic, Phil broke a trap in the corner of the court by dribbling the ball between a defender's legs. Without breaking stride he then heaved a pass for an alley-oop dunk.

"I was like, 'This is just insane,' " Henderson said. "That's just how confident he is in his ability and how great he is with his handle."

Along with his handle, Pressey has great agility, stop-and-go speed and jumping ability.

Henderson still marvels at an incident from practice that highlighted those skills. While Episcopal worked on a 5-on-5 half-court set, a player's shot missed and bounced off the rim. Coming from the right wing, Pressey leapt over a teammate to rebound the ball with his right hand and then slam it home.

The guard can perform an array of dunks, including windmill, throw-it-off-the-glass and one-handed tomahawk, and he is currently working on a between-the-legs number. Along with that sizzle, he has a strong understanding of the fundamentals of basketball, a byproduct of his NBA genetics and environment.

Because Paul served as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics and Hornets, Phil has met some of the game's elite players, including David Robinson, Sean Elliott, Tim Duncan, Paul Pierce, Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill, Chris Mullin and Tim Hardaway. It was Celtics guard Tony Allen's suggestion to do the nightly calf exercises just one example of how Phil has learned the tricks of the trade from the very best.

"He started playing his game around some of these players that he's been not just watching on TV," Paul said, "but also had a chance to sit down and chitchat with."

Phil has met his role model, another undersized but ultra-speedy point guard, the Hornets' Chris Paul, 15 to 20 times. Before talking basketball, though, the Hornets' Paul acts as a mentor away from the court, always asking Pressey about his grades.

But the Indiana Pacers' T.J. Ford is the NBA guard that Henderson, who played collegiately at Texas A&M and professionally in Australia, and his colleagues say Pressey resembles. Although the eighth pick in the 2003 draft and Naismith Award winner was bigger, Henderson said they possessed comparable speed, ball-handling and defense as high school players. Pressey, who was 8-for-9 from 3-point range during the Arlington Classic, also has a better shot and scoring ability than Ford did at the same age.

"That's probably an accurate statement," Henderson said.

Like Ford, Pressey now plays his high school basketball in Texas. He began his high school career with Matt at Cushing (Mass.) Academy while Paul coached for the Celtics.

After Matt graduated from the Academy last spring and enrolled at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, Paul wanted to move Phil and his mother, Elizabeth, to Dallas rather than have them join him in New Orleans. Dallas became the optimal location because Phil has aunts, cousins and uncles in the area, and Big D serves is a short flight from New Orleans.

The father-son communication remains constant despite their distance. Paul sees Phil about once a month but phones or text messages him every other day, and Phil will visit him for an extended period during spring break.

Moving from city to city is part of the nomadic life of an NBA coach's son, and Phil has lived in San Antonio, Orlando, Fla., Boston and Dallas.

"Everybody makes fun of me because I guess I have a little bit of an accent from being in Boston," he said. "But when I used to live in Boston, they used to make fun of me for my Texan accent."

Despite the ribbing from classmates, the 18-year-old has adjusted well to his new city and school, which the Presseys chose for its academic reputation and strong basketball program. After Cushing did not allow its boarding school students to have cars, Pressey also enjoys that he can drive to Episcopal.

"I got a hand-me down, my sister's old truck," he said. "But I'm not complaining."

Partly because he has his own wheels there, Pressey cited Dallas as his favorite among the four cities in which he has lived. Location, though, will not serve as a major factor in selecting which college to attend. He does not have a top five list but includes Ohio State, Florida, Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma, Arizona State, Marquette and Connecticut as schools of interest. The opportunity for playing time will weigh heavily into his decision.

To better prepare himself for college, the junior needs to improve his defense. That's an area in which his father, a first-team NBA all-defense member during the 1984-85 and 85-86 seasons, excelled. Phil, though, can sometimes become too aggressive and go for steals rather than keep his man in front of him. He also has focused on improving his shot while adding strength to his 155-pound frame.

The one knock on Pressey, of course, remains his height. But he has learned to deal with that slight.

Playing against older kids, including Matt, only exacerbated the size difference. Pressey remembers the trash talk. Even after he made a good play, the opposing players would chastise each other, saying, "How are you letting this little dude do this to you?"

"It's always been like that since I was younger," Pressey said. "But now that I'm more known around the court, it usually doesn't happen."

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