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Countdown to Tipoff: Evan Cole and Shembari Phillips

Neither is expected to be a star, but both could be useful contributors

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Countdown to Tipoff: 18 days

The men’s basketball player preview series continues with a look at two seasoned players who struggled to make an impact last season but could turn out to be valuable assets for the 2019-20 squad.

Evan Cole

Size: 6-8, 226

Year: Junior

2018-19 Per-Game Averages (18 games, 3 starts): 12.3 minutes, 4.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.4 blocks

Cole showed some promise during his freshman campaign as a reserve behind Ben Lammers and A.D. Gueye, even taking on a starting role late in the season. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to take much of a step forward in his second season.

Cole returned from an early-season ankle injury in the 2018-19 campaign to post double-digit points in back-to-back non-conference games against Kennesaw State and USC Upstate. When the ACC schedule arrived a couple weeks later, though, he mostly faded to the back of the rotation. Cole had a solid game in Tech’s 73-59 road win at Syracuse, posting eight points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes; however, he only once topped that point total in ACC play (a nine-point effort against Wake Forest a week earlier) and never matched that rebounding total in a conference game. He finished the 2018-19 campaign with slightly lower per-game averages in scoring and reboudning than he had the year prior.

That’s not to say he can’t make an impact this season. Cole has two years left, and with Tech lacking proven frontcourt depth behind James Banks and Moses Wright, the rising junior will undoubtedly have a role to play. Kristian Sjolund, Khalid Moore, and possibly freshman David Didenko will factor into the frontcourt rotation, but Cole will at a minimum be valuable as the backup center behind Banks, who had issues with foul trouble a year ago. Cole has the raw talent to be a capable ACC post player, and another offseason of working with assistant coach Eric Reveno can only help.

Shembari Phillips

Size: 6-4, 210

Year: RS Senior

2018-19 Per-Game Averages (20 games, 6 starts): 11.1 minutes, 2.1 points, 1.1 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.3 steals

Phillips seemed to be a significant addition when he announced his transfer to Tech in 2017. He was an impact player at local powerhouse Wheeler HS before signing with Tennessee, where over two years he emerged as a key rotation player and defensive guard with some offensive potential. For a Tech team that was young and unproven in the backcourt in 2018-19, Phillips’ experience and defensive skill both looked like very valuable assets.

In that context, there’s no way around it: his first year at Tech was a huge letdown. Phillips was a starter in the backcourt to open the year, but after a promising debut against Lamar, (10 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals), his offensive play simply vanished. He never scored more than six points in a game the rest of the way. While he remained a viable defender, it wasn’t enough to make up for the lack of offensive production, and by the time ACC play rolled around, Phillips had fallen out of the Jackets’ regular rotation.

Phillips heads into the 2019-20 campaign as one of two scholarship seniors on the roster, and he’ll be battling for a role in the rotation this offseason. The question will be whether he (and the coaching staff) can develop his offensive game to be at least functional. He doesn’t need to be a prolific scorer; with double-digit scorers Jose Alvarado and Mike Devoe returning, and with Jordan Usher and Bubba Parham arriving as transfers, the backcourt should have plenty of firepower. Phillips’ perimeter defending is his best asset and should get him at least some minutes, but to be more than a fringe player in this backcourt, he’ll need to show that he’s at least a moderate scoring threat.