Blues guard talks defence, vlogging and promoting social change
Carlo Javier // Managing Editor
Photos c/o Vancouver Sports Pictures
Hassan Phills was already on his way to the Sportsplex when we spotted him ahead of our interview. I say “we” because two other editors had insisted on joining me in my chat with Phills, not as an assignment, but because of interest. Phills, a self-described “extrovert-at-heart”, is a bundle of energy and humour. He revels in human interaction, is an innate storyteller and by all accounts, is the most interesting member of the Capilano Blues community.
Phills was accompanied by Blues men’s basketball team manager Whitman Mclallen. It was four hours before tip-off for their game against the Langara Falcons, whom the Blues defeated in a thriller nearly two months ago. Phills also had his trusty camera, as he was recording new material for his popular YouTube channel, phillinmyself07.
I first met Phills weeks before our interview was even approved. It was a Wednesday evening at a small convention put together by EarthWorks. He stood in line for a surprisingly substantial buffet served by the event organizers. His six-foot-three frame amidst a host of smaller students was unmistakable. A few feet away from the lineup was Blues guard EJ Mabone. He was yelling something to Phills. I couldn’t gather what he said, as the bustling crowd drowned out most of the noise. All I heard was Phills’ response: “I need an extra hand!”
Phills and I spoke for a few minutes about the prospects of a profile interview. In that short span, he had managed to delve into the mixed reaction he gets for the name of his vlog.
When he got to the end of the line, Phills noticed that Mabone had left him. He carried a small plate with about four or five wraps on it. Not wanting to exit through the crowd with an overflowing plate of food, Phills snuck back and exited through an elevator at the back corner of the Birch building. In a hiccup, he was gone.
Hassan Phills grew up 4,387 kilometres away from North Vancouver, in the bustling city of Toronto. This is actually Phills’ second stint with the Blues, having spent his rookie season, as well as his first year at Capilano University in the 2013- 2014 academic calendar. A forgettable first year, and a desire and curiosity to live on Vancouver Island ultimately led Phills to transfer to Camosun College, where he donned the Chargers’ colours. However, a bond he had built during his time in CapU kept Phills coming back to North Vancouver.
On his initial visit to the West Coast prior to his rookie year, Phills stayed with then-teammate Connor Power for three days. Since then, Phills has been like family to the Powers. “The family that I live with, they go to Quarry Rock all the time, they go to Harrison Hot Springs, they’ve all done that before,” he said. “Then I realized when I first moved here, they wanted to go to all these places, even though they’ve done it before, just because they wanted to do it with me, they wanted to see the reaction on my face.”
Grant Galbraith must’ve heard someone coming. With 6:54 left in the third quarter of the Blues’ matchup against the Langara Falcons on Jan. 27, the Falcons’ six-foot-nine big man caught a long outlet pass from guard Harry Brar. Galbraith received the pass just inside the three-point line and only needed two or three steps to make an uncontested layup or finish with a dunk. No Blues player was close enough to defend the basket.
In a split second, Galbraith’s opportunity for an easy bucket was lost. Blues guard Phills – who was standing on the opposite foul line when Brar threw the pass, had covered nearly the entire length of the court to chase-down and block the shot, momentarily pinning the ball on the backboard and saving the Blues two points.
“What I’m famously known for back in Toronto and in this league, is chase-down blocks, that’s my thing,” he said. “If there’s a breakaway and I’m in the back and I’m still trailing from behind, I’m catching it. I’m calling it, too.”
While some basketball players stake their claim with smooth 3-point shooting or flashy dunks that delight the crowd, Phills’ bread and butter is an aspect of the game that isn’t always glorified: defence. “I get more pleasure from playing defence and getting steals and blocks, than I do from scoring points,” he said. As one of the most athletically-gifted players on the Blues, Phills often finds himself being tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter scorer. His role and responsibility on defence grew even more after Mabone – another one of the Blues’ key defenders – was forced to miss several games due to injury. “Hassan gives excellent effort on the defensive end of the floor,” said Blues head coach Cassidy Kannemeyer. “He uses his special athleticism and timing to be a great on and off ball defender.”
On Jan. 26, the Blues played the Quest University Kermodes for the second time this season, a rematch the Blues had been itching for after the Kermodes handed them their first loss back in November. The Blues wound up extracting revenge with a 73-62 victory, but it was Phills’ work on the defensive end that helped secure the win.
Dallas Searles, the Kermodes’ six-foot-three guard from South Seattle, has had his way with the Pacific Western Athletic Association (PACWEST) conference all season. The fifth-year veteran is currently averaging 22 points per game, good for second in the PACWEST and stands among the Player of the Year candidates in the conference. This time, Phills was on a mission. Searles finished the game with 15 points – a number boosted by numerous trips to the foul line after he made 12 of his 14 attempts. In play, it was a completely different story. Shadowed by Phills all game, Searles wound up missing 10 out of his 11 shot attempts, including six of his seven attempts from beyond the arc.
Despite Phills’ athletic gifts, it’s his intangibles and defensive IQ that truly helps him shine on that end of the floor. He has a naturally loud voice, which Kannemeyer described as “a great gym voice.” This allows Phills to communicate with teammates clearly, particularly when rotating on help defence and switching on screen coverages. “He also has a short memory,” Kannemeyer said, “Which is a great basketball attribute, to forget the previous play and zone in on the current situation.” Phills’ defensive pride isn’t new either. It’s an aspect of his game he developed in Toronto at a young age. Defence has been the constant variable since he started playing competitive basketball and it’s what allowed him to separate himself from some of his peers and competition. “When I was in high school, I played for Team Ontario and the only reason I saw the floor was because I was one of the best defenders on the team,” he said.
The PACWEST’s end of season accolades don’t include defensive honours. If it did, and if Phills’ rebounding clip was a little higher. Kannemeyer is confident that his defensive ace would be a candidate for an All-League Defensive Team.
As of February 2017, phillinmyself07 has amassed 1,399 YouTube subscribers, while his Instagram account of the same name, has reached nearly 4,000 followers since its inception. It’s beginnings, like Phills, started in the East Coast.
Back in Toronto, Phills works with an organization called Bigger Than Basketball (BTB) and through BTB, Phills had the opportunity to work with the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI). The organizations work towards providing opportunities for underprivileged youth to compete at a high level of basketball for scholarships in the post-secondary level. For Phills, his main goal was to help prosper social change and innovation.
The vlog follows a “day-in-a-life” format and features Phills’ natural knack for storytelling and quick wit. Some videos go from simple stories about how a random student took his seat in a study room, a trip to Brandywine Falls with Mclallen, or even the seemingly innocuous, but truly found call for people to “culture up” and try new things. “It’s more than just one video, the story of the channel itself is a pretty big deal,” Phills said. “Right now, I’m in the midst of capturing what it’s like to chase your dreams on YouTube, in the classroom and on the basketball court.”
One of the apt comparisons that Phills has made for himself is The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. “I go back to Toronto; I live in the hood, I live in government housing. I come here; I live in a $2 million house,” he said. “It’s weird, it’s zero to 100. Real quick.”
Despite his vlog growing by the week, Phills isn’t necessarily too caught up in popularity or the potential of profit from YouTube, “I would love to see it skyrocket, but I’m not setting the bar too high, I’m not lusting for money or anything like that, I’m just here having fun with it,” he said. “Before you know it, eligibility is done, I could blow my knee or whatever, no more basketball, but then I have this. I can go back and show my kids, ‘look, your Dad was a hotshot, look at this girl that I picked up, she thought I was a blogger, she thought I was famous.”
“Having fun with it” seems to be a constant theme in Phills’ life. “His joy in the games is definitely one of his best qualities,” Kannemeyer said. “People enjoy watching him play, and I enjoy knowing that we are always getting maximum effort from him and again that is an infectious attribute that rubs off on his teammates.”
The Blues wound up falling to the Falcons in their game on Jan. 27. The loss broke a three-way tie at the top of the PACWEST that involved the two teams, as well as the Vancouver Island University Mariners. The Blues are still firmly entrenched in third, and still have a strong shot at reclaiming the top seed they held earlier in the year. A few days after the loss, Phills was quickly back to his “next-play” mindset, uploading a new video to phillinmyself07. He was singing Kehlani’s “Distraction” – as infectious and joyous as always.