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Tennessee ‘the obvious choice’ for Link Academy’s Cade Phillips
Cade Phillips is part of the 17th-ranked recruiting class in the nation with the Tennessee Vols. (Courtesy: Cade Phillips)

Tennessee ‘the obvious choice’ for Link Academy’s Cade Phillips

BRANSON, Mo. (BVM) – Success has followed Cade Phillips wherever he has gone. Whether that be on a state champion team in Alabama, or the No. 1 prep team in the country in Missouri, Phillips is a proven winner. Soon, he will get ready to take that mindset to the University of Tennessee.

Phillips officially committed to the Vols in May, and it was Tennessee’s consistent recruitment along with several other factors that sold the 6-foot-10 forward on continuing his career in Knoxville.

“Tennessee had been recruiting me for a while, pretty consistently,” Phillips said. “It was the consistent recruitment that they had of me, and then after going and visiting there, there were more reasons to go there than anywhere. I could talk about picking Tennessee for days, whether it be the culture, the fans, their plan for me. There was so much there that it felt like the obvious choice for me. It felt easy, it felt right.”

The transition to a college athlete will be coming soon for Phillips, and he will add to an already rich athletic history within his family. His dad, John David Phillips, is a former quarterback for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Cade’s mom, Reagan Croyle Phillips, also played basketball at Alabama. Meanwhile, Cade’s grandfather, John Croyle, is a former Alabama defensive lineman who played for Paul “Bear” Bryant, and his uncle, Brodie Croyle, also played quarterback at Alabama before moving on to the NFL.

With so many athletes to learn from, Cade has been able to take away a lot of things from his family members when it comes to athletics, whether that be eating right or paying attention to detail. However, it’s his parents that truly made him realize what he had to do to be successful on the basketball court.

“They kind of opened my eyes early of how much it really took to be successful at that high of a level,” Cade said. “They showed me the work ethic that comes along with it and the love for the stuff you do every day, even when you don’t want to do it. That was stuff they got to teach me early and I was blessed to find out about it early … They made sure to teach me the aspect of sports that helps with life just as much.”

Cade Phillips Link Academy Missouri Tennessee Vols college basketball
Cade Phillips is following in the footsteps of his mom, Reagan, who was a college basketball player at Alabama. (Credit: Greta Cross/Springfield News-Leader / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Even with Cade choosing a different path than the rest of his family by choosing to play at Tennessee over Alabama, the support never wavered.

“In the state of Alabama, there was probably a little bit of surprise,” Cade said. “But for my close friends and family, they knew it was my decision and that I would do what’s best for me.

“I’ve been blessed to have two of the best parents ever. You talk about support, my commitment day I had them dressed from head to toe in orange, singing ‘Rocky Top.’”

Cade also has his parents to thank for getting him involved in sports early on in his life, particularly basketball.

“My mom played basketball in college, so I was introduced to it pretty quickly,” Cade mentioned. “I was lucky to have her be able to get me into it early.”

While Cade enjoyed basketball, it was actually following in his dad’s footsteps on the football field that intrigued him most growing up. The Tennessee commit continued playing football through his sophomore year of high school, but eventually, he just outgrew the sport.

“That was the sport I wanted to play in college growing up,” Cade said. “I kind of outgrew it a little bit. You don’t see many 6-foot-9, 6-foot-10, low-200s playing football.”

As Cade has grown over the past few years, his size has certainly translated well to the hardwood. The 6-foot-10 forward grew up playing with his older cousins who were bigger than him at the time, helping him develop the skillset of a guard. Similar to that of one of his NBA role models in Anthony Davis, Cade now strives to maintain that versatility at his size, while also being able to guard inside, stretch the floor outside and display his impressive athleticism. 

That has been on full display the last several years as Cade has competed on the AAU circuit with The Skill Factory in Georgia.

“It was really good to be with a group of guys who all kind of have the same goal of being in the NBA,” Cade said. “Seeing what they’re doing, learning from each other and just building close relationships with them, it was awesome.”

Meanwhile, when it comes to Cade’s high school career, he has had a unique journey. The 6-foot-10 forward began playing varsity basketball in eighth grade at Westbrook Christian in Rainbow City, Alabama, and continued to play there through his sophomore season – a year in which he averaged 18.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.

Cade Phillips Jacksonville High School Link Academy Tennessee Vols basketball
Cade Phillips, No. 12, helped lead Jacksonville High School to a state championship in 2022. (Credit: Mickey Welsh / Advertiser / USA TODAY NETWORK)

For his junior season, Cade decided to transfer within the state to Jacksonville High School. Between both schools, Cade saw success while being able to develop his game further, and he is thankful for his time at each spot.

“Both of those programs were awesome,” Cade said. “I’ve had a little bit more of a different high school experience than other people … Hopefully the impact I left at those schools was as much as the impact they left on me.”

As a junior at Jacksonville last season, Cade definitely left his mark, averaging over 13 points and 8.2 rebounds while blocking over 100 shots. Despite a broken foot that caused him to miss over a dozen games, the big man returned in time for the playoffs, and helped lead the Golden Eagles on a special run that culminated in a state championship.

“It was awesome,” Cade noted. “To be able to come back for the playoffs, go through all the trials we went through with that team, and to finally just go through and end the season the way we did with those guys, it was special, it was a lot of fun.”

At the same time as the championship run, Cade knew he might be moving on from Jacksonville for his senior year. For quite some time, the Alabama native’s focus has been making it to the NBA someday.

“A lot of kids dream about it,” Cade mentioned. “It’s been a dream for a long time, and to finally see the work and put in the work that it takes to get there … It’s really awesome to see that and use it as fuel.”

As a result, having already accomplished so much at the high school level, Cade decided to do what was best for his future. That led him to Link Academy in Branson, Missouri for his senior season – an elite basketball academy in its second year of existence.

“I’ve had goals since being a kid of playing in college at a high level and going to the NBA,” Phillips said. “To reach those goals, you have to sacrifice. When I was kind of midway through my junior year, I felt like I had had a very good and fun high school career, and I felt like it was time to be a little bit more about what my goals were about.”

While the transition to Link Academy was a big one, right away, Cade embraced what the program was all about.

“I think it’s the best group of guys in the whole country,” Cade said. “We get along so well, we love to be around each other. It’s a lot different than being at home. The obvious one is we’re living on our own here, preparing us for college and pretty much giving us a college atmosphere as high schoolers. 

Cade Phillips Link Academy basketball Tennessee Vols
Cade Phillips has helped lead Link Academy to become the No. 1 high school team in the country in 2023. (Credit: Greta Cross/Springfield News-Leader / USA TODAY NETWORK)

“You’re battling with guys everyday. Nobody’s spot is solidified. It’s a great, competitive atmosphere with guys who are good at the sport and love basketball.”

Both the closeness of the team and the competitive atmosphere have led Link to some incredible success in 2022-23. Undefeated on the year, the Lions are ranked by most outlets as the No. 1 team in the country. Recently, the team brought home a huge win in the prestigious Bass Pro Tournament of Champions as well.

“It was sweet to go out there and play that level of competition and on that level of a stage in front of that many people, and then do what we did and still be able to learn from what we did,” Cade said. “It’s what you sacrifice so much for, for opportunities like that.”

The tremendous success has come thanks in large part to the contributions of top recruits like Elliot Cadeau, Ja’Kobe Walter, Cade and many others.

“It’s an honor to be ranked that high, but what our goal right now is to focus on is to still be the hunter,” Cade added. “The goal for this season is of course a national championship, but our goals are even higher than that. We want to be a team you talk about in the coming years when you look at our guys, look at our roster and what we do after high school.”

It’s likely this Link Academy team will be remembered for years to come. But right now for Cade, the focus is on moving forward, and soon that will be his time at Tennessee. The 6-foot-10 big man will be part of the 17th-ranked recruiting class in the nation with the Vols, joining the likes of JP Estrella and his current Link Academy teammate, Cameron Carr. Cade will also have the chance to play under a tremendous college basketball coach in Rick Barnes, who has had Tennessee in the top 10 of the AP poll for the majority of the 2022-23 season.

“If you’re a fan of college basketball, you know who Rick Barnes is,” Cade said. “It’s really awesome to get to experience that level of coaching, not just in basketball, but in life.”

While winning in Knoxville is at the top of the list, Cade is set to develop both on and off the court once more in college. After all is said and done, he hopes that will propel him to his ultimate goal.

“My goals are to develop as a basketball player as much as possible, and develop as a man,” Cade said. “I feel like if I push those two as far as I can, then I can reach my final goal in basketball of making it to the NBA.”

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