POMONA — It was not an instant love affair between Janine Phillips and basketball.
Phillips admits she disliked the sport when she was growing up in San Diego. Her favorite sport was softball.
"When I was in high school (Kearny) a girlfriend was on the team and she wanted me to play because I was so big," Phillips recalled. "But I hated basketball. I thought it was just the worst thing to play.
"I liked softball better. I was the tallest girl in high school and I think that was the main reason why they wanted me to play. But she finally convinced me and I started playing in the 11th grade."
Like it or not, Phillips was almost an instant success. She made the all-league team the first year.
In fact, Phillips has made an all-league team every season since.
Just six years after she started playing, Phillips has developed into a top-flight NCAA Division II center.
Scores and Rebounds
The 6-2 senior is one of the biggest reasons Cal Poly Pomona has built a 21-7 record and is ranked No. 8 in Division II going into its first-round playoff game against San Francisco State at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Kellogg Gym in Pomona.
The 21-year-old Phillips, named to the All-California Collegiate Athletic Assn. first team last week, is the top scorer and second leading rebounder for the Broncos. She averages 12.8 points and 8.3 rebounds.
But those are not the most impressive statistics in the world, and Phillips is quick to admit she is not the most exciting player by a long shot. But that doesn't bother her.
"I don't see myself as a flashy ballplayer. I'm not kickback, either, but I just try to do my job. As long as I can contribute and help the team, it's OK with me."
That is like music to the ears of Coach Darlene May, who preaches team basketball and has the top Division II coaching record of 277-75 to show for it.
"The two years she has been here she has always been a team player," May said. "She has never been concerned about individual honors. She's just concerned about whether or not we win. She has been a big part of our success."
Big Schools Wanted Her
Phillips says it may have been May's reputation as a coach that initially piqued her interest in coming to Pomona.
After averaging 21.2 points and 12.4 rebounds in two years at San Diego Mesa Junior College, she was recruited by Division I schools UCLA, North Carolina, Louisiana State and San Diego State, which was only seven miles from her home.
Why did Phillips decide to play in Division II?
"My coach at San Diego was telling me about Cal Poly and Coach May and how successful they were. I decided to come here because of Coach May and how sincere she was, and I was also impressed with her record.
"She was straightforward with me. She laid everything out on the table, even the bad things. A lot of schools only talked about the good points."
Phillips says she made the right decision.
She has never averaged a lot of points for the Broncos, although she did score a school-record 42 against Cal State Dominguez Hills as a junior.
More important, Phillips has adopted May's team philosophy and assumed the role of team motivator.
"She gets the rest of the team perked up," May said. "She's full of energy."
A Talker on the Court
On the court, Phillips is constantly talking--to teammates, opponents or anyone who will listen.
"If I don't talk on defense or if I don't talk to my players, I tend to get lost. I have to talk to keep going in the right direction. In a game there are so many things that pile up and I sort things up by talking and being aware of everything that's happening."
But sometimes, Phillips said, she gets a little too caught up in her excitement. She has had a tendency to hurry shots.
"Every time I get the ball I want to go right up (for a shot). I have to slow down and take my time because when I do that I'm a better player."
Phillips said that isn't as much of a problem as it used to be.
A physical education major with an emphasis on dance, Phillips said her dancing techniques have helped her in basketball.
"That's (dancing) my first love. Dance has helped me with basketball because you learn body control and it helps your mental awareness. When I'm on the basketball court, it's kind of like my motions are choreographed."
Phillips is quick to credit teammates, too.
"I think I've improved more as a team player. I don't have to worry about trying to score as much because I have teammates who can also score. It allows me to do other things."
Phillips said that the team's attitude is better than a year ago when the Broncos finished 22-7 and lost to Chapman in the Division II West Regional, 69-60.
Broncos Have Confidence
"There's a certain confidence about this team," she said. "That's what I like about it. We're really close and we get along well. And everybody likes to contribute.
"Last year we wanted it but it really wasn't there. This year I think we're going to go back East (to the Division II finals). I really do."
Phillips said the Broncos are looking forward to a probable second-round matchup Tuesday against Chapman, which tied Pomona for first in the conference and is ranked No. 2 in Division II. The teams have split two games this season.
But Phillips added that May does not like her teams to look past the next game, even if San Francisco State is only 12-14.
"In our team room, we have a ladder that's called 'The Road to the Gold' and we have to take it one step at a time," Phillips noted.