Chris Tucci/UMass Athletics
Chris Tucci/UMass Athletics

Share your snacks, the Destiney Philoxy way

How the UMass guard stays levelheaded without ever giving up the fight

January 11, 2021

The Massachusetts women’s basketball team prepares for a game on the road. Long bus rides with masks, social distancing between seats and hand sanitizer in a coat pocket.

A mask is slowly brought down, food enters the picture. A hand reaches out to grab something from a teammate. From an outside perspective, its pre-game fuel, but for any member of the Minutewomen, snacks from Destiney Philoxy mean a whole lot more.

“I grew up sharing,” Philoxy said. “When I was a kid, I shared everything. I have so many snacks. I have a snack addiction. I share everything with my teammates, I ask them before and share with them before I even look at it. I feel like that matters the most, letting people know around you that you care about them.”

Philoxy’s infamous collection of salty or sweet items selflessly make their way around to her teammates, and on the court, the ball mirrors any bag of pretzels she gives. A multifaceted facilitator like Philoxy gears her teammates towards a selfless game that brings success to the program as a whole.

Philoxy, who currently leads the country in assists, averaging 8.2 per game, does not find success in complicated game plays but rather the fundamentals of basketball.

“I like passing the ball, I love passing to people. That’s just me, I’m selfless on and off the court.”

When Destiney Philoxy arrived in Amherst two years ago, head coach Tory Verdi may not have known about her snack obsession, or her childhood generosity but he did know the potential she had and the growth it required throughout the years.

“Destiney is our catalyst,” Verdi said. “She is a great teammate. She has done everything that I’ve asked her since day one that she came into our program. She embraced our core values and who we are.”

Anybody can look at this season and spot the noticeable differences. No fans, no Mullins Center popcorn, strict travel restrictions and lots of testing. In the COVID world of sports, the mental adjustments for coaches are quite often overlooked.

For a coach like Tory Verdi, his proactive mindset was put on the back burner.

“Our mentality is like, ‘hey, let’s be better today than we were yesterday, let’s win the day,’” Verdi said.

The essence of this season is to control the controllable. Verdi is pleased with not only Philoxy’s growth as a vocal leader but the specific lessons she instills in this Minutewomen team.

“Just when we face adversity, just being there,” Verdi said. “You want everything possible to stay positive, and communicate to her [Philoxy] teammates that, we have to have a what’s next mentality, we have to move on to the next play.”

The feeling of a heavy hardware in the hands of UMass, with confetti on the court and a banner that reads “champions” is no longer a distant dream, but rather the driving force when these Minutewomen put on their practice gear each day.

“When I think of winning the day, I think of winning the moment,” Philoxy said. “When coach says win the day, I don’t think of what’s going to happen tomorrow, or next week. Only carefully preparing for the game tomorrow, or today determines what’s going to happen during a game. So, win this day, we’re going to win during the game.”

For athletes, typical questions about playoff potential, key matchups late in the season or even a game that is two games away is too far ahead to focus on. When the death of basketball icon Kobe Bryant left the entire world somber, Philoxy found light in her newfound appreciation for the present.

Philoxy recognized even prior to the pandemic that no game is promised, nothing is given and everything is earned. That mentality is now the catalyst of everything Philoxy does this season.

When UMass found itself on the losing end of a playoff game on March 6, 2020, they had no idea the entire world would join them at home just weeks later.

“After the season ended last season, a big part of me just wanted to grow,” Philoxy said. “After the game in St. Louis, coach Verdi told us to control the controllable and that’s what we didn’t do during that game, that’s why we lost. I took that with me during COVID. I can’t control COVID, I can’t control that gyms are closed but I can try to be as mentally prepared as I can.”

An average day in quarantine for Philoxy was not like the cover of a COVID issue of Living magazine. There was no bucket list of movies to stream while burning daylight, or random baking recipes to relieve stress. It was months of Philoxy being nothing but Destiney Philoxy.

A typical morning would start with reaching out to teammates.

“I talked to my current teammates Desiree Oliver and Sydney Taylor every day to see what they were doing, how they were doing and just talk to them every day or three times a week,” Philoxy said.

Followed by getting outside to improve her game.

“I would Facetime Coach Walker and I would be outside dribbling a basketball with a plastic bag over the ball working on my right hand,” Philoxy said.

There would always be constant reminders of the purpose of her actions.

“I just feel like those couple months I just took time and rethought life and rethought basketball.”

And goalsetting to get productive and accomplish her goals.

“My jump shot is just one thing of anything I’ve ever had as a kid,” Philoxy said. “I have to have one because everybody knows I’m a lefty. I’m a guard and now it’s time to grow up. It’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Ending the day with any remaining physical activity or phone calls.

“Working on my jump shot, running outside, we’d (Walker and Philoxy) be on the phone day and night just working out and that helped me a lot.”

After months of productivity and a routine like none other, Philoxy’s new skills are being showcased this season with confidence at the core.

“Once you have the confidence in yourself, nobody else could bring you down. I feel like my shooting is going to get better and when it does it’s going to shock a lot of people.”

Verdi on the other hand has no worries about the way the stat sheet represents Philoxy scoring wise.

“The points will come, that’s something I’m not worried about,” Verdi said. “But she’s in every single big game that we’ve played. She has showed up and makes things happen for herself and for her teammates.”

On Dec. 13, Philoxy watched from outside the three-point line as teammate Maddie Sims took two free throws. Off a miss, Taylor put up a shot that eventually landed in Breen’s hand at the right time. When the ball went through the net as the buzzer sounded, Philoxy’s arms met Breen first, with a bigger smile on her face than her teammate who just won the game.

While Breen’s bucket was as epic as the praise it received, Verdi recognized what got his team in that game winning position.

“She hasn’t played much of the point guard position prior to these last several games, but against St. John’s she played the point the entire second half,” Verdi said. “She was a creator, not only for herself, but getting her teammates in position to score. Now she has games where she’s had nine assists so again, she does whatever it takes for us to win, and that’s something that is truly special.”

When players are deemed special, comparisons between those who do whatever it takes to win can come from any level.

On Jan. 10 the Minutewomen found themselves down seven at halftime against Fordham. A comeback powered by Breen, put UMass within two. With 4:04 to go in the third quarter, the Fordham guard faked and drove by Sydney Taylor, with the assumption her lane to the basket was now clear. But the whistle blows and the ref extends arm opposite way. Philoxy shifted over and drew the charge. Seconds later, Breen’s jumper put UMass up for the first time since the first quarter.

On Jan. 8 the Washington Wizards crept back to cut into the Boston Celtics lead. The Wizards’ guard faked by Jayson Tatum, drove, and kicked to shooter in the corner who had Jaylen Brown in the air and drove to the basket instead. What was once a clear lane to the basket was stopped by Marcus Smart, on the low block waiting for the out-of-control guard to drive. Ref extends arm and another charge on the stat sheet for Smart.

“I agree with it,” Philoxy said of the comparison. “I take charges, I pass the ball. Like I said before the little things and that’s what Marcus Smart does. He played a big role during playoffs like he took charges, defense was his main key, offense didn’t matter but he scored when he had to, and I feel like that’s me.”

Defensive fame and credit for consistently drawing charges is not the only comparison between the two.

“On the court no matter if I know you or not, you’re just an enemy because I’m trying to win and feel like Marcus Smart does the same thing,” Philoxy said. “I don’t like losing so I am going to do my part and hopefully it comes through.”

If Sam Breen finds herself on the floor for a loose ball, Philoxy’s hand is the first to pick her up. Every run back on defense after a made basket is met with a Philoxy high five. Every Celtics game winner is celebrated with a chest bump from Smart.

“Yeah, I mean you love it, we want those types of players,” Verdi said. “We got to compliment her, she worked extremely hard. There’s been a tremendous amount of growth and development with her. This has never been easy for, but her commitment to us and to our program has been unbelievable.”

The unbelievable commitment to the program does not stop on the court. Her emphasis toward off-court relationships feed into her on court greatness.

“I think that we have an unbelievable relationship,” Verdi said. “She understands, I’ve always been here for her, and that I have her back. And there’s no question that I know that she has my back as well.”

Her abilities on the court inspire her own teammates to want to “win each day” with the same energy and effort she does.

“She makes us go, all that energy feeds off to everyone else, and everybody’s game is elevated at that point,” Verdi said. “She impacts the game in so many different ways.”

Any fan of Minutewomen basketball can tip their hat to Philoxy’s never-ending generosity and unbeatable effort on both ends of the floor. This season brings numerous challenges but having a player like Philoxy who can master the art of passion and patience speaks volumes for the opportunities this team has.

It may be a snack, a Facetime call, a quick transition outlet up the floor or an extra pass to a teammate even more open than she is, but Philoxy’s core values create a positive dynamic that sets the Minutewomen up for success.

“I’m so proud of her effort each and every single day,” Verdi said. “There’s no question about it that she does win each day.”

Lulu Kesin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @LuluKesin.

 

 

 

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