Lady Jaguar Ends Record-Breaking Season, Looks Ahead
Raven Phillips doesn’t know defeat. She knows struggle. She knows stacked odds. The 5’ 10” graduate student knows injury and hurdles, but she also knows healing and how to land on her feet. What Raven Phillips doesn’t know is quitting, and she doesn’t know failure, although she tried to stay away from basketball when she transferred to Governors State University.
"I came to GSU because I was running away from basketball, but God wanted me to finish what I had started,” Phillips said.
A transfer student from Calumet College of St. Joseph, she chose GSU because—at the time—it had no basketball program. Phillips wanted to focus exclusively on her academics. She arrived during a period of transformation for the university, though, and soon Coach La Toshia Burrell was courting Phillips to play for GSU’s club team.
“I had coached against her when she was playing at Calumet, so I knew who she was in that realm. I reached out to her,” Burrell said.
Phillips said that she “was done with ball,” but felt like fate was making a different decision for her. She agreed to play, and by the next year, GSU had established itself as a competitive college team. “I didn’t want to have any regrets, and I don’t (have any) now. I’m happy that I played.”
“Raven is a great team leader,” Burrell said. “She’s very vocal. She really motivated her teammates.”
This past season—the first competitive one for GSU and Phillips’ last—wasn’t an easy one, though. During a pre-season scrimmage with Moraine Valley Community College, Phillips sustained a knee injury that kept her off the court for the first five or six games. She took the injury hard.
“I was distraught. I was angry with the way everything went down. On the inside, I gave up for a moment, but then I kept it going and pulled it together,” Phillips said. “One doctor told me to just sit out, but I stepped it up. The first two, three games back—I couldn’t make a layup. I was scared I would re-tweak my knee.”
She didn’t, though. She focused on healing and came back.
"Knee injuries are never easy," said Burrell. "When Raven came back, it was tough gaining her confidence back, and she played hesitantly, but she soon was able to bring her 'A' game."
Before the season ended, Phillips set a school record of 188 rebounds in a season. She also set a single-game record with 36 points and 16 rebounds.
“I couldn’t abandon my teammates,” she said.
Teamwork is something that Phillips learned not by its presence but through its absence. Her early years found her moving from her parents’ home into an adoptive household at age eight. One of twelve children, she suffered abuse in both homes, and by age 14, she was living alone. Her adoptive family had moved on and left her behind. A freshman in high school, Phillips stayed in the abandoned house alone until a classmate’s family took her in.
“It was hard at first to adjust. I would lock myself in my room and not come out unless I had to,” she said.
In time, though, Phillips began to trust her new surroundings and the family that had opened their hearts and home to her. She bonded with her high school basketball coach. He became a mentor to her, and Phillips found family in the sport that she loved and security in her new home.
These days, she tries not to give her past much thought. Phillips is preparing to graduate with a Master’s degree in Communications and has her eyes on the road ahead. She and her fiancé are in the process of planning their June wedding in Cancun and buying their first house together.
Five years from now, Phillips says she hopes to be working in education administration. She’ll have her beautician’s license—cosmetology is her “passion”—and she may even have a child.
“I might have two, maybe three,” Phillips said, stressing the maybe. “I’m going to have my own family and give them what I didn’t have.”
Coach Burrell is sad to see Phillips go.
“I saw a lot of growth in her, both on the court and in her personal life. I’m very proud of her. I have a special place in my heart for Raven.”