Coach's contribution spans 40 years

by Mark Oliver

For more than 40 years, Orlando “Odie” Phillips has been a priceless contribution to youth basketball in the 501 community.

Formerly involved with the Boys and Girls Club of Faulkner County and Pulaski County, he has coached the likes of five-time NBA champion and current Los Angeles Lakers guard Derek Fisher and Quincy Jones, formerly of the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves.

Phillips has also coached many current Conway players from both the White and Blue teams, including his granddaughter, Jordan Danberry, a freshman for the Conway White Lady Cats.

Phillips also heads the Conway Bears basketball organization, one of four teams currently available to youth in the community. You can often find Phillips hard at work, practicing with his teams at the McGee Center in Conway.

“We have some that will probably earn their way to college,” Phillips said. “One of our goals was to help them become good citizens. We’ve taken them across the country — New Orleans, Oklahoma, Texas — we try to give them the whole experience. We try to teach them skills. We teach the principle that if you get skills, you’ll get exposed. When they become seniors and when someone tries to recruit them, these players will be exactly what recruiters are looking for.”

As word of the success of Phillips and his teams grows around the community, so does the program.

“We started with one team,” Phillips said. “Now we have four and counting. We’ve recruited good coaches and good players. We have girls from Greenbrier, McCrory and Maumelle that come to play with us. There is even a girl who lives in Utica, Miss., who comes and stays with me in the summer. Her mom was impressed with our team and how we played and for the last four summers, she has been coming to Conway and playing in national tournaments with us.”

Looking to expand the organization, Phillips recently held a meeting to spread the word about the Bears and reach out to local youth.

“We had girls from Greenbrier, Vilonia and McCrory sign up,” Phillips said. “[In the past] we played against most of these kids. The parents recognized what we’ve done over the years and they wanted to be a part.”

Today, Phillips works for the Conway School District as a behavior specialist for the in-school suspension program.

“I’ve pulled several girls out of the ISS program and got them into basketball,” Phillips said. “A couple of them even play for me now.”

Over the years, Phillips has transformed many young men and women into athletes. But to Phillips, there’s more to it than just basketball.

“More than anything, it’s about just teaching kids life skills in general. It’s all about the kids. Basketball is an exciting game and girls around here were not exposed to it the way that the boys were. I wanted to bring basketball to Conway—my original goal was to make Conway girls basketball better, and I believe we have.”