Bahamian high school standout Phillip McKenzie moved to the United States just three years ago as a part of a student exchange program with very limited experience playing organized basketball. But over the course of those three years, under the tutelage of Cannon High School coach Che Roth, the 6’ 6” wingman has become a force to be reckoned with on the hardwood.
Now, midway through his senior year in high school, McKenzie is looking forward to taking the next step in his career, when he takes his talent to Houston Baptist University, a Texas National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I school, next fall. Mckenzie has averaged double figures in points and rebounds over the last three seasons. And this season, he’s currently averaging 11 of each and is a candidate for all-Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association honors for a second consecutive year.
Despite his numbers dipping a bit from last season, when he scored 15 points and grabbed 16 rebounds each game, coach Roth said it has more to do with the talent they added, more than a decline in McKenzie’s game.
“I do what the team needs,” said McKenzie. “If they need someone to rebound, I’ll go out there (and rebound). If they need someone to play lockdown (defense), I’ll do my best. If they need someone to go to the rim and draw some fouls, I’m right there. I see myself as a player who can step into any role that they need. You just need to ask me, and I’ll do my best.”
Although McKenzie appears to be a natural on the court, coach Roth said that wasn’t always the case. He added that he wasn’t impressed in the least by his first impression of the former Queens College student.
“He was Charmin soft,” said Roth. “He had no work ethic. He was off-the-charts athletic, but he couldn’t get through a two-minute workout without huffing and puffing. He had to get a lot more mentally tough and stronger and physically gifted.”
During his time in the United States, McKenzie has lived with several host families. He said that his time in Charlotte really made him appreciate the idea of family and what it represents. So much so, that Roth said the family atmosphere at Houston Baptist was one of the main reasons McKenzie elected to play there next fall.
“It was important finding an environment that was conducive to a family, finding people who could take care of him where his mom and dad felt comfortable,” said Roth. “I’m going to be thrilled when May 20 comes around and he walks across the stage because I didn’t think he would. I figured I would be too hard on him as a coach, but he just kept wanting more.”
Aside from McKenzie, David Caraher is the only other small forward set to join Houston Baptist next season, which will allow McKenzie to have a lot of opportunities early with the Huskies.