Ben Phillips wasn't supposed to be here. He wasn't supposed to be playing basketball, playing volleyball, and finishing his master's thesis at De La Salle University.
And yet, here he is: A key cog for the Green Archers, a promising rookie for the Green Spikers, and already thinking about a doctorate.
"It's always nice to have options. I always wanna put myself in that position," Phillips said, following back-to-back practices with Taft's basketball and volleyball squads. "After two volleyball seasons and another basketball season, I'll have time to process what I want to do. But right now, I'm focused on the volleyball season as well as my MBA (Master in Business Administration) thesis."
The 6-foot-8 center stands as the middle blocker for the Green Spikers in the oncoming UAAP Season 85 Men's Volleyball Tournament. This, just a few months removed from playing as big for the Green Archers in two seasons in one calendar year.
Phillips is making the most of opportunities that weren't initially there. Youngest brother Mike Phillips was the highly touted, widely recruited prospect. La Salle, among other schools and squads, went to the U.S. to woo him -- as well as his family.
"Mike and I had different experiences. He was the one who was talented and was recruited fresh off high school," he said. "During [La Salle's] recruitment trip, everybody thought I was his father!"
Ben, indeed, looks mature, as evidenced by his off-court get-ups, which generally consists of suits and ties and dress shoes. And while he is proud of Mike, make no mistake, Ben wants to make it in his own right.
"I had to introduce myself, I had to try out, I was a walk-on. It was a leap of faith. I had to work and fight for everything I have in La Salle," Phillips said. "And that taught me so much about determination, resilience, just earning everything. I wouldn't change that decision for anything."
Proving himself deserving of a spot alongside his younger brother, Phillips made the Green Archers' lineup in Season 84. He returned a few months later and unleashed a surprising deadly long-range shot in Season 85. After only going 1-of-5 from deep in his first tournament, he made seven of his 22 3-pointers the next time around.
"(Former La Salle) Coach Derrick [Pumaren], he wanted me to develop other aspects of my game," Phillips said. "I know we have so many talented players, a lot of bigs to compete with, so if I don't work on my craft, I'll get passed on. It's just so much motivation. Everyone wants to sharpen their swords."
Phillips not only had to fight for his spot on the roster, he had to fight again for his right to play a key role. Now, he looks to fight for his right to make an impact in a second sport -- a sport, he believes, takes much more team effort than basketball.
"I like playing both sports a lot, but in volleyball, everybody has a specific role. In basketball, there are guys who can do everything, but in volleyball, it's very specific," Phillips said. "You need every part to work to score. Receive, pass, set, hit, block here and there. Everything has to work."
La Salle is just as much a powerhouse in volleyball as it is in basketball. In the men's side, the Green Spikers are seeking their first title in 20 years. For that to happen, Phillips is determined to do whatever it took to prop up ace spiker Noel Kampton.
That includes bringing the fire and desire that have become his trademark. For two seasons in basketball, he had been one of the most intense players whenever he was on the court, with several moments of him letting out his emotions getting captured on camera.
"I'll have to do a bit more showing my emotion now because in volleyball, every single point is extremely important. Not saying that's not the case in basketball, but volleyball's a sprint to 25. Sobrang mabilis lang yun," he stated. "That's why players celebrate every single point, or communicate what went wrong. So I have to be a lot more vocal and energetic."
As hard as he works on the court, Phillips is taking a similar approach in tackling his studies. Tall task as it is, he's not backing down -- thinking of it as yet again adding another weapon to his arsenal like this 3-pointer in basketball. Or joining a championship contender after six years of not playing organized volleyball.
Phillips gets through a grueling daily routine by putting the work into perspective. All these things he has right now? They were there for the taking. So he did. So he climbed. So he clawed. So he claimed.
"It's really hard to put into words. Every day right now is like a scene in a movie I'd never have expected," he said. "And getting to do all these with my brothers, they're really my inspiration as well as my parents. To be here together, having all these opportunities in front of us, it's a dream come true."
Ben Phillips wasn't the first choice. He wasn't the top priority. That didn't stop him. He had the want and he manifested the opportunities.