Numerous new faces lead the way for Terrace boys basketball team

New head coach Johnny Phillips (center) has taken the reins of the Mountlake Terrace boys basketball program following the retirement of former coach Nalin Sood last spring. While promising to continue the program’s high standards, Phillips hinted that he will be pushing for even more intensity out of his players starting this year.

The Mountlake Terrace boys basketball program has been a picture of success during its 64-year history: numerous league and district championships, 19 trips to state tournaments and winning a state title in 1977.

The program has helped produce three Washington State Hall of Fame coaches, including recently retired Nalin Sood, who led the Hawks for 24 years.

Now Mountlake Terrace basketball is in the hands of new head coach Johnny Phillips, a 1990 graduate of the school and a member of the assistant coaching ranks at Terrace for 27 years. 

Phillips will be trying to sketch the next vision of Hawks hoops — and he says he hopes it won’t be too different from prior ones.

With Phillips’ history as both a player for legendary Hawks coach Roger Ottmar and an assistant under Sood (who also played and coached for Ottmar), it’s understandable that the goals and objectives of the Terrace basketball program will remain largely unchanged.

Phillips is hoping senior-to-be Rayshaun Connor (center) will be one of the team leaders for the 2024-25 Hawks squad.

“When Coach Sood was at the helm, that standard was super high,” Phillips said. “Everyone that coached with him was trying to rise up and meet that standard in whatever we were doing. If it was conditioning, academics, on the court, off the court.”

“It will be the same work ethic, same mindset,” Phillips said.

Sood-coached Terrace teams enjoyed remarkable success, qualifying for state-tournament play 15 times and bringing home four state trophies: third-place in 2005; fourth in 2013 and 2024; and sixth in 2022. Those squads, as with all Sood-led teams, were known for intense practice rituals and full-bore effort on game days.

Phillips hinted that opponents and fans may see that intensity and more in his players.

“If anything, we might go a little harder,” Phillips said of any potential comparisons between the intensity level of his future teams and that of prior Terrace squads. “I told those guys a long time ago if I ever took the job, you guys (have) got to get in shape. They said, ‘we’re in shape;’ I was, ‘no, you’re not.’”

After playing on the JV last season, junior-to-be Shan Shah (right) hopes to land on the Terrace boys varsity squad this fall.

“I might lead them to be even more intense,” Phillips said. “We need to get to that point; we need to get to a certain point so that we can dial you back. It’s hard to pick you up, it’s easy to bring you back down. We’re trying to get to a level where I’m like ‘that’s a little too much and we’ve got to bring you back to where you need to be.’”

While intending his players to be defined by a recognizable Terrace ferocity, Phillips reaffirmed that his version won’t be all that different from prior years under Sood, especially when it comes to preparing the players for games.

“Some of the things (Sood) was on them about, I’m not; some of the things I’m on them about, he wasn’t,” Phillips said. “But it’s still the same standard, still the same Terrace basketball. I do a few things different than he does. But they’ve been groomed since they were little kids; they were all part of the feeder program so they know.”

One aspect of Phillips’ coaching style that isn’t expected to change much with his new head coach designation is his full-fledged participation in training, which has earned him adoration and respect from former players.

“I don’t ask the players to do anything I don’t do,” Phillips said. “Throughout all the years I was an assistant, everytime we were out on the field conditioning I was right next to them. Every time we were out running miles, I was running those miles with them. I would never ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do. I’m always trying to lead by example.”

Terrace assistant coach Greg Wirtz called Luke Stone the freshman player of the year on the Hawks’ C-team last season. The sophomore-to-be is expected to contend for a spot on Terrace’s varsity roster next season.

Phillips’ work ethic was on display in June during the program’s allowable practices, camp attendance and spring tournament play when coaches can spend a month with players in organized activities.

Phillips led players hoping to make the 2024-25 squad in numerous practices, three weekend tournaments and a four-day camp in Pullman; he then welcomed some of those players to come help in a two-day basketball camp for 6- to 15-year-olds on July 1-2.

For Phillips’ first time leading the Terrace basketball spring activities, the challenge was to indoctrinate a very young group of hopefuls — including five incoming freshmen — to what will be expected of them for the upcoming season.

(The Hawks graduated seven members of last year’s varsity squad and may only return three seniors-to-be.)

“It’s been a very interesting month, I’d say for sure,” Phillips said on June 30. “We have five eighth graders playing varsity — first time in school history. So it’s definitely a learning process. It’s a lot of teaching … teaching a mindset, an understanding of how to approach the game a little bit. But they’ve grown a lot.”

“We’re trying to create a mindset; set that standard for the young guys coming in so that they know this is what it’s about,” he added.

Brady Myers-Little (left) is one of just three seniors-to-be who are expected to be on the roster of the Terrace boys varsity.

Terrace’s spring basketball schedule closed with eight straight days of on-the-court work at the end of June. Phillips said he believes the concentrated stretch of both physical and mental training helped develop a toughness into his players that is required of championship-level squads.

“Like I said, to win a state championship you’ve got to win four days in a row,” Phillips said. “And those are long days and long nights. There’s nothing easy about that. I told them today, this isn’t about today; this isn’t about this month. This is about February and March.”

While a state championship may be too lofty of a goal for a 2024-25 Hawks squad that will be composed of mostly underclassmen, Phillips said likes what he saw in his players this spring.

“They’re buying in; they’re trying really hard,” Phillips said. “They’re learning how to play hard. I think that’s the biggest thing: the effort. Once you put in the effort, everything else will come together.”

— Story and photos By Doug Petrowski

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.