IT was the decision which cost Erin Phillips an Olympic medal but which helped yield the Australian basketball star a WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) championship ring.
Phillips joined an illustrious group of countrywomen that includes Lauren Jackson, Tully Bevilaqua, Belinda Snell and Penny Taylor to win a WNBA title – her Indiana Fever side securing a 3-1 series win with an 87-78 win over Minnesota on Sunday.
The 27-year-old from Melbourne produced one of the best performances of her career in the series-clinching win with 18 points and eight rebounds – then revealed her relief after her commitment to the Fever cost her a berth in the Opals squad which claimed bronze at the London Olympics.
Unlike Jackson – who opted to stay in Australia to prepare for the Olympics before rejoining Seattle after the Games – Phillips played the entire season for the Fever.
Phillips believes the call played a role in her omission from the national side.
Having been a member of the Australian squad which claimed silver at the 2008 Games, she was devastated at the snub.
Two months later, her decision was somewhat vindicated with her standout performances during the finals series.
“It’s a huge relief,” Phillips told the ESPN website.
“It definitely was a very tough year for me personally with the national team.
“But the sacrifice that I made with them was to stay here and prepare to try to win a WNBA championship.”
While disappointed she wasn’t with them in London, Phillips was happy to stand alongside some of her former Opals teammates as a WNBA champion.
“It gives me chills because the other Australians who’ve won championships are players I’ve looked up to,” Phillips said.
“We want to make our country proud and keep a legacy going and set a standard for any other Australian players who get to play in the WNBA.”
Phillips, who won a WNBL title with Adelaide Lightning in 2007/08, came of age as a WNBA player during the finals as she took her game to a new level to help cover for the absence of injured star Katie Douglas.
Elevated to the starting side after the Fever’s opening playoff game, Phillips stepped up her regular season average of 6.1 points per game to 6.7 points in the semi-finals and nine points per game in the conference finals.
Then in the finals series she more than doubled her regular season output as she averaged 13.5 points a game – which included her breakout performance in the title-clinching win.
“I thought Erin Phillips had one hell of a series,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said.
“You’ve got to have somebody other than your star player stepping up.
“Phillips was consistently a player that made plays, and that’s what the finals are about.”
She proved to be the perfect foil for final MVP Tamika Catchings, who top-scored with 25 points in the nine-point win over the Lynx.
By Steve Jancetic