CHICAGO – Phoenix Gill has now been on this earth longer than the span of his father’s impressive 15-year NBA playing career, including one season with his hometown Bulls.
Kendall says his son’s already better entering his junior year at St. Ignatius than he was in his third year at Rich Central, before becoming an integral part of the famed “Flying Illini” of the late 80s. But, father and son also recently came to a mutual agreement after Phoenix impressively helped lead the Wolfpack to a second straight trip downstate (the first two times in program history), weighing between playing even more hoops on the summer’s high profile stage, versus potential harm.
“Right after the season I was getting calls from every AAU team in the state, some out of state, wanting Phoenix to play,” Kendall says. “But I’m really in favor of giving kids a break because they play much basketball now. So I decided we’re gonna take a month off. We’re not gonna do anything. I don’t even want you to run. Just be a kid, go to class, focus on your studies, eat. Just be happy, play video games because not only do you need a break physically but you need to get away from it mentally, as well. You know because of the way the culture of basketball has changed, the kids don’t get to be kids anymore and I don’t want him to miss out on any of that.”
Kendall and Phoenix reached the decision to pass up the intensity and scrutiny of Summer AAU and EYBL Leagues after the sophomore scored 40 of his team’s 90 points in Semifinal and Consolation game losses this past march in Champaign to Simeon and East St. Louis. While he’s still practicing and playing summer league games for St. Ignatius, the rest of his gym time is spent doing individual basketball drills, cross training and speed and heavy bag work in the boxing ring, under Dad’s guidance.
“Working out can benefit me more than AAU,” Phoenix said. “Of course, game action is gonna help out a lot, but working out, knowing the game, IQ and all that stuff helps out a lot. Also, staying out and taking a break is essential for me. My legs are definitely fresh and also I feel my IQ is starting to get on-point. So I feel like I’m starting to improve in all ways by sitting out, focusing on working on my game and all that stuff.”
On top of that, there’s the pressure of performing for college scholarships, with virtually every big-name coach at high profile programs sneaking into gyms. And Kendall knows the trickle-down effect on the kids.
“I think they feel so much pressure to perform. You have dads, parents in the stands totally drilling their kids. And you know, I had to be careful of that because I felt I was becoming that way as well. It’s just a competitive thing amongst the parents.”
Kendall was retired before Phoenix was even born. But with archives available at his fingertips, the kid has admiration and respect for his dad’s career.
“It’s a joy to watch him. I didn’t actually know he was that good until I sat down and watched him, so it was pretty cool seeing him play back in the day. I definitely see a lot of similarities. A lot of people say we walk the same, we have the same movements and stuff, but also the athleticism aspect. We kind of shoot the same too, so I see a lot of similarities.”
But Kendall counters where they were and are at their respective stages.
“He’s a lot different than me. First of all, he’s a lot smarter than me. He gets A’s. I didn’t get A’s. A lot better looking than me. Takes after my wife. Both my kids are. He’s a lot bigger than me at this age. After my sophomore year I was 5’8. He’s 6’3. I didn’t weight that much, didn’t have the athleticism that he possesses. Not as skilled as he is at this age.”
And now that their one-on-one tide has turned, the trash talk has changed, too.
“I beat him 3 years ago, somewhere around there,” Phoenix chuckled as he looked over at Dad. “And now I can probably 21-0 him, I don’t know.”
“Last summer was when I had to pass the torch cuz I just couldn’t beat him anymore,” Kendall admits. “I’m 55 now. But I can still get it together on the third day in a thunderstorm at 3 o’clock on the 3rd of the month with the right shoes on,” he laughed. “He’s surpassed me now. I can’t beat him anymore.”
But in every parent-child relationship, be it in basketball or life, there’s a balance between allowing him to learn through a process through occasional mistakes, and sharing everything that’s been learned, felt, and experienced.
“It’s very tough for me to do it and that’s where he and I still sometimes butt heads,” says Kendall. “And I’ve learned there are times to just leave him alone and learn through the process. That’s necessary because sometimes your kids – even when you’ve been there, where they’re trying to go – sometimes they don’t wanna hear it. Or hear it from somebody else, or experience it themselves That’s something I’ve had to learn. It’s been hard for me to deal with, that aspect of our relationship.
“But, I’m learning.”
Phoenix was already offered a year ago by Brad Underwood, now coach at Kendall’s alma mater, Illinois. And further proof that the Gills’ approach is working came this past weekend. Phoenix dominated in a 16-point fourth quarter that included a game-winning three pointer at the horn, part of a 33-point effort in a game at Riverside-Brookfield.
It’s another step in Phoenix potentially coming out of the state as Illinois’ best high school player in the Class of 2025.