A connection from heaven—Trey Phills’ career high at Yale last week came exactly 18 years to the day when tragedy took the life of his dad

Trey Phills (Steve Musco photo/

One of those unexplainable yet gratifying coincidences occurred in an Ivy League basketball game in New Haven last week when Yale junior Trey Phills scored a career-high 23 points in the Bulldog’s 78-72 opener against Brown.

That game took place on Friday, January 12th, which is a personally significant date for Phills and his family. The reason it is so meaningful to them is that exactly 18 years ago on another January 12th in the year 2000, Trey’s father, NBA star Bobby Phills, lost his life in an automobile accident.

Trey, whose actual name is Bobby Ray Phills III., was only three years old at the time, so naturally he has no recollection of his loss. But the tributes that poured in since then and constant reminders by a close-knit family and its friends have kept the awareness alive.

It is not by chance that Trey’s uniform number at Yale is the relatively unpopular #13. That is the same numeral his father Bobby Phills wore with the original Charlotte Hornets. A replica of his jersey now hangs high above the court at the Charlotte Coliseum, placed there in a ceremony on Nov. 1, 2014.

Trey wore #13 in high school as a tribute to his father and requested it when he came to Yale. Since it had not been assigned to anybody else on the Bulldogs, it became his.

Bobby Phills’ son Trey, then 3, reaches out to touch his father’s jersey while his grandfather, Bobby Phills Sr. holds him. The Charlotte Hornets retired the number during a ceremony in 2000, after Phills was killed in an auto accident. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

The fateful event

On January 12, 2000, the 30-year old Bobby Phills was at the peak of his career. He and a teammate, David Wesley, were operating their Porsches less than a mile from the Coliseum after a pre-game shoot around.

Phills lost control of his 993 Cabriolet, went into a skid and collided into oncoming traffic. He apparently died instantly.

“I often talk about how smart Bobby was,” Bobby Phills, Sr., who is the grandfather of Trey, told “He was gifted academically and athletically. But with all the things he had going for him, he made one stupid mistake and it cost him his life.”

Bobby Phills Sr. finally saw his grandson play for Yale when the Bulldogs were in Atlanta to face Kennesaw State on Dec. 30, 2017. He lives in Georgia and took advantage of the opportunity to see Trey in a Yale uniform for the first time.

The legacy of number 13

Less than a month after the fatal car crash in 2000, the original Charlotte Hornets retired number 13 and raised a Bobby Phills jersey to the rafters. However, it received limited exposure because the franchise moved to New Orleans in 2002 and changed its name to the Pelicans. In 2004, a new NBA team was awarded to Charlotte, temporarily called the Bobcats. The jersey was gone.

The name never caught on and in 2014 it was renamed as another Charlotte Hornets. As a tribute to the original franchise and its beloved star, a No. 13 Bobby Phills jersey was re-hung on Nov. 1, 2014. It remains the only number retired by a Charlotte NBA team.

The jersey was raised in an emotional ceremony that included Trey, his sister Kerstie, and their mother, Kendell, who addressed the crowd and expressed her appreciation.

A basketball family

Bobby Phills Jr. (Trey’s father) played basketball under the legendary coach Ben Jobe at Southern University in Baton Rouge. A second-round draft pick, he played in the NBA for nine seasons, the first six with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the last three with Charlotte. He signed a $33 million contract with the Hornets in 1997.

The 6-5 guard played in 133 games for the Hornets. He averaged 12.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.4 steals in 32.2 minutes per game.

Trey and Kerstie

Kendall Phills, widow of former Charlotte Hornet Bobby Phills stands with her son Trey Phills, to thank the Charlotte fans for retiring her deceased husband’s jersey during halftime of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Trey and Kerstie both graduated from Charlotte Christian High School, where they played on their respective basketball teams, though Kerstie was two years behind her brother.

Trey was so popular that he was chosen King of the Senior Prom in 2015. His coach, Shonn Brown, said that he was one of the best players in the history of the school. That list includes Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors.

Last season Kerstie played her freshman year at Wagner College in Staten Island, NY. Like her brother, and in tribute to their father, she also requested and received #13. At Wagner she played in 29 games, starting in 28 of them, and averaged 13.1 points. She transferred to Florida Gulf Coast University in Ft. Myers, Fla., and, per NCAA regulations, is ineligible this season. She still has three years of eligibility.

Trey has had to be patient to get a lot of playing time at Yale. During his first two years, the Bulldogs had a host of veteran players and it was hard for him to break in. Seeing spot duty, he made his biggest basket in a reserve role in a crucial moment in Yale’s NCAA upset win over Baylor.

His career game

In the game against Brown this past January 12th, Trey was 6-of-9 from the field, and a perfect 10 out of 10 at the free throw line. He pulled down seven rebounds and had five assists in 34 minutes. Those are statistics that would have made his father very proud, as well as the fact that his son is attending a world famous university.

“Trey was brilliant,” said Yale’s coach, James Jones. “He’s our best on-the-ball defender. Offensively he played with energy and was aggressive, which made all the difference.”

The rest of the season

Phills and his teammates should be getting some help soon as Yale makes a run for the four-team Ivy League tournament. The highly rated Mikai Mason is expected back after being out with injuries for one and a half seasons.

Maybe another connection from Heaven will inspire Trey Phills and his fellow Bulldogs to pay further tributes to the memory of Bobby Phills.

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Ivy Roundup: Brown edges Yale, 82-81, in Providence - ROUNDBALL DAILY

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *