State hoops: UDM's Rashad Phillips ready to pass baton to fellow 'Tesla' Antoine Davis

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — At a prep showcase at The Palace featuring about 20 of the nation's best prospects, Rashad Phillips outplayed a kid named Kobe Bryant, not long before Bryant became a first-round pick in the 1996 NBA Draft. Phillips, meanwhile, went off to Detroit Mercy, where he didn't start as a freshman, but still eventually became the program's all-time leading scorer.

Yet, Phillips never got to live his dream of playing in the NBA, despite being an All-American as a senior.

He doesn't believe Antoine Davis, who is on the brink of breaking Phillips' scoring mark at Detroit Mercy, will suffer a similar fate — even though as an undersized guard who shoots the lights out from the 3-point line, his game is so similar to what Phillips displayed at Calihan Hall from 1997-2001.

Rashad Phillips, with young daughter Kharma, at his number-retirement ceremony at Calihan Hall in 2010.

"I look at it as evolution," Phillips said over the phone recently from his home in Florida. "I'm a person who is a huge advocate for evolution, being able to see it, being able to adapt to it, being able to appreciate it, and so for me, it's something that I support. I support the evolution of the game of basketball.

"Antoine is a lot like I was. I consider myself a player who was before my time. The stuff Antoine is doing today is what NBA players are celebrated for today, but what players were almost ridiculed for 25 years ago.

"My style of play was futuristic, but in my era, it was frowned upon — the long 3-point shots, the exciting play, it wasn't celebrated in my era."

Davis, 23, in his fourth year playing for his father, Mike Davis, at Detroit Mercy, is 35 points from matching Phillips' school record of 2,319. Davis gets his first real crack at taking the record when the Titans play host to Youngstown State at 7 p.m. Thursday. He's scored as many as 34 against Youngstown State.

More likely, Davis will go for the record at 3 p.m. Saturday at home against Robert Morris.

Davis, with 365 career 3-pointers, already has broken Phillips' record (348) in that department — in an era where the 3-point shot is much more celebrated (think Steph Curry, Duncan Robinson, Damian Lillard, etc.), thanks in large part to the evolution of analytics.

Phillips said he's not "bitter" about how his pro career shook out — he played overseas for nearly a decade early in the 2000s — because, he said, bitterness is something that eats away at you. He's disappointed, certainly, but equally happy that Davis is playing the game today, and not when he was. 

"Oh, it was a good run," said Phillips, who starred at Ferndale High before moving on to Detroit Mercy, where he averaged 18 points on just 12.9 field-goal attempts in his four collegiate years — topping out at 23 points as a junior and 22.4 as a junior.

"We have to learn how the world is all about evolving and updating and adapting. At the end of the day, you have to. You can be as stubborn as you want toward evolution. That doesn't meant it's not gonna happen. Our parents all have iPhones. Our parents didn't want iPhones, but evolution forced them to adapt.

"Imagine a Tesla on the road in 2001.

"I think he's at an NBA level. I think he's playing at the right time."

That doesn't mean Davis will get drafted in April 2022 — assuming he doesn't come back for a fifth year, as allowed by COVID. (If Davis does return, he could take a run at Horizon League and NCAA scoring records.)

Often, said Phillips, himself a basketball prospect analyst, the draft is about who is your agent, who you know, and even how prestigious a program you play at.

Going undrafted isn't the end-all, though. Just ask Oakland alum Kendrick Nunn, who went undrafted, made a run at NBA rookie of the year in 2021, and signed a two-year, $10.25-million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. Or Robinson, the former Division III standout who went to Michigan and was undrafted and this summer signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the Miami Heat.

"The draft is such a tricky stage," said Phillips, 43. "It's not all about production.

"It's just a lot that goes on. It's not just, 'Oh, he averaged 26 points.'"

Detroit Mercy guard Antoine Davis shoots over a UIC defender.

Phillips broke John Long's record of 2,167 points in 2021, though acknowledged that Long might've scored more than 3,000 had the 3-point line been around when he played — that wasn't universally used by the NCAA until 1986, eight years after Long's college career ended.

Still, Phillips' mark is awfully impressive when you consider he only shot 1,666 field goals. Davis is about to eclipse 2,000 shots, leading to averages of 26.1, 24.3 and 24 points his first three seasons at Detroit Mercy. This year, he's averaging 22.2, numbers that are down perhaps because of an Achilles injury but also because he now has a few more weapons surrounding him for Detroit Mercy (4-7, 2-0 Horizon League). The Titans are considered a favorite to contend for the conference championship.

In many ways, Detroit Mercy hiring Mike Davis — who once led Indiana to a national championship game — was not as big a deal as the package deal it created, bringing Antoine Davis to Detroit. Phillips, who grew a whole inch in college to get to 5-foot-9, calls Davis, who's listed at 6-1, a "hybrid guard" and "offensive disruptor" that are all the rage in the pros these days.

Phillips and Davis frequently text, and Phillips said he had a feeling a long time ago this day was coming.

"Given his history, his background, what I've known about his work ethic that he and his father had demonstrated before he got to college, I knew," said Phillips, whose No. 3 is retired by Detroit Mercy.

"That's the kid that's gonna break the scoring record.

"I'm honored being in the same sentence with him."

Hit the books

Here's a look at the career scoring records at Michigan Division I men's programs:

Michigan State: Shawn Respert, 2,531

Michigan: Glen Rice, 2,442

Detroit Mercy: Rashad Phillips, 2,319

Oakland: Travis Bader, 2,351*

Eastern Michigan: Ray Lee, 1,873

Central Michigan: Mel McLaughlin, 2,071

Western Michigan: David Kool, 2,122

* Division I record; Carvin Melson scored 2,408 when Oakland was Division II

Slam dunks

►The Pistons will host Detroit Mercy Night on Feb. 1., when the New Orleans Pelicans and their coach, Detroit alum Willie Green, visit Little Caesars Arena. For fans purchasing the Titans' ticket package for $49, you'll receive a game ticket, a limited-edition quarter zip with the Pistons and Titans logos, and all the food you can eat. Detroit Mercy gets a donation. Tickets can be purchased at pistons.com/UDMnight.

►More changes to the Eastern Michigan women's schedule because of COVID-19: The Eagles, who already canceled two nonconference games including one against Michigan, have postponed their Wednesday game against Bowling Green — the Mid-American Conference said it will try to make up the game — and the Jan. 2 game at Ohio will be pushed back to 1 p.m.

State power rankings

MEN

1. Michigan State (10-2)

2. Michigan (7-4)

3. Oakland (7-4)

4. Detroit Mercy (4-7) 

5. Eastern Michigan (5-6)

6. Western Michigan (4-7)

7. Central Michigan (1-10)

WOMEN

1. Michigan (11-1)

2. Michigan State (7-6)

3. Western Michigan (6-3)

4. Oakland (4-7)

5. Eastern Michigan (3-4)

6. Central Michigan (2-7)

7. Detroit Mercy (0-11)

Games of the week

MEN

►High Point at Michigan State, 3 p.m., Wednesday (BTN)

►Michigan at Central Florida, 7 p.m., Thursday (ESPN2)

►Youngstown State at Detroit Mercy, 7 p.m., Thursday (ESPN3)

►Robert Morris at Oakland, 7 p.m., Thursday (ESPN3)

►Michigan State at Northwestern, 2 p.m., Sunday (BTN)

WOMEN

►Nebraska at Michigan State, 2 p.m., Thursday (BTN+)

►Ohio State at Michigan, noon, Friday (BTN)

►Oakland at Green Bay, 2 p.m., Saturday (ESPN3)

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984