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The Journal Gazette

Friday, July 14, 2017 1:00 am

Star guard huge point of interest

IU, Purdue eye McCutcheon standout

Pete DiPrimio | For The Journal Gazette

Robert Phinisee wants the burden. He'd better want it, of course. A point guard who doesn't demand to run the show is of no use to a basketball coach.

Matt Painter of Purdue and Archie Miller of Indiana are among the coaches hoping to put the McCutcheon High School standout to good use.

For now, it's a watching-and-wooing recruiting game. Phinisee's Indiana Elite team is at the Adidas Gauntlet in South Carolina.

Boiler and Hoosier coaches are there, as are plenty of others. IU coaches plan to watch all of his games this month.

The 5-foot-11 Phinisee is aware of the attention just as he recognizes he isn't close to being a finished product. When he isn't playing, he's working on turning weakness into strength.

“It's about improving my game,” he says. “Keep getting in the weight room, keep getting stronger and just doing everything so I can be ready for the next level.”

Purdue and Indiana hope he's ready from the moment he arrives in college. Both teams have point guard needs.

Phinisee delivers with an ability to score, pass and defend. In 82 high school games, he's averaged 15.7 points, 5.1 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 2.7 steals. Last season, it was 21.7, 6.8, 5.9 and 3.0.

Beyond the numbers, Phinisee makes others better, in part by getting them the ball when and where they need it.

This is big for the Hoosiers, who have only one true point guard on the roster, and that's senior Josh Newkirk. Freshman guard Al Durham is more of a combo guard, as are sophomores Devonte Green and Curtis Jones.

IU coaches envision Phinisee taking charge as a freshman much as Yogi Ferrell did in 2012. Ferrell started all four years, was first-team All-Big Ten as a senior and now plays for the NBA's Dallas Mavericks.

“They want a guard in 2018 to come in and run the team,” Phinisee said

Purdue's point-guard pool after this season basically consists of Carsen Edwards, a sophomore star in the making who is more of a scorer than a passer (although he can do both). He can't do everything all the time, especially given all the defensive and offensive responsibilities the position under Painter requires.

Phinisee would deliver an impressive 1-2 punch with Edwards.

Purdue has used its geography advantage – its West Lafayette campus is close to McCutcheon's Lafayette setting – to get a big jump in recruiting. IU is trying to close the gap, as are programs such as Ohio State (with new coach Chris Holtmann) and Virginia.

IU has countered with recruiting contact as much as five times a week.

What does Phinisee want in a school and coach?

“If I do go far away from home, how comfortable I am with the players, the coaching staff and everybody around the basketball program,” he said. “Player development and making me a better person.”

For now, though, the recruiting emphasis is on building and enhancing relationships.

“Coaches want to see how I am as a kid, how good a kid I am. Just building a relationship. That's the main thing.”

Phinisee has hit the visit-campus circuit hard, spending plenty of time at Purdue, IU, Butler and Ohio State, plus Louisville and Xavier.

Meanwhile, Virginia has become an intriguing option. Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett already has one player from Indiana in Kyle Guy of Indianapolis. Plus, Virginia has become a national power in recent years.

“I know they're a great program,” Phinisee said. “They've been one of the top teams in the ACC the last two or three years.”