OXFORD, OHIO — Voices are booming down the hallway outside of Ohio’s locker room.
The Bobcats had just won their fourth-consecutive conference game. They were detoxing from a 79-62 win over their historic rivals.
One voice is just a tad louder, though.
“He’s a gym teacher!” coach Saul Phillips buoyant voice echoed down the hall. The context hardly matters. Phillips enjoys talking.
And the scene isn’t anything new: Phillips is mostly a passionate, verbose intellectual who’s set Ohio up for competitiveness in the next few years.
“He is the best,” assistant coach Aaron Fuss said of Phillips. “He puts a lot of time now into his craft. He watches just a ridiculous amount of film, he thinks about the game just non-stop.”
After winning just 10 games his first season in Athens, Phillips has turned Ohio around with careful recruiting, balancing personalities and watching an abundance of film. He admitted to not often watching the women’s team, who play a day after Ohio’s usual Tuesday night matchups, because he’s beginning to prep for its next opponent.
“You’d be woefully disappointed in my social life, let’s put it that way,” Phillips said earlier in the year. “I help my wife, hang out with my kids, watch tape, maybe have an occasional beverage. Other than that, we’re good.”
The Bobcats (18-9, 10-6 Mid-American Conference) are second in the MAC. And they did it without arguably their best player, Antonio Campbell.
“His guys are really patient when they pick up the dribble … they do a good job of moving and not panicking and keeping the ball moving,” women’s coach Bob Boldon said of Phillips’ team. “Similar idea to what we do.”
From a technical standpoint, the men’s team utilizes mostly ball screens to pry shooters open and space the floor. It has worked, too.
Since joining Ohio, Phillips has gone 51-41 and has potentially notched back-to-back No. 2 seeds in the MAC.
Phillips has pushed the Bobcats from bottom dwellers — going 10-20 in his first season — to NCAA Tournament hopefuls in just two seasons.
Its offense has been one of the MAC’s best, ranking first in points per game (78.4) last year. Jaaron Simmons has carried the offense during year three, leading the team in points (418) and assists (185).
“He’s a real player’s coach,” graduate assistant Tommy Freeman said of Phillips. “And I think you don’t necessarily have to be that at this level because there’s a lot of college coaches that definitely aren’t player’s coaches and they run it like a business. But Saul is very loyal and dedicated to those guys he’s in the locker room with.”
The upward trajectory is similar to a person whose office is right down the hall from Phillips inside The Convo: Boldon.
Greatness from small beginnings
Boldon entered the women's program at its lowest point. His predecessor, Semeka Randall, did not attend post-game conferences and went 6-23 before Boldon took over.
Like Phillips, Boldon’s first season was tumultuous: a 9-21 season.
What followed: a NCAA Tournament berth a year later, an National Invitation Tournament invite a year after and back-to-back MAC regular season titles.
The rapid success has become a precedent for the once-mediocre program.
“Just going through the motions, that really makes him mad,” senior Quiera Lampkins told The Post earlier this year. “And then making the same mistake twice. But definitely not working hard."
Boldon has worked hard.
He’s gone 81-41 since leaving Youngstown State to join the Bobcats in 2013. He’s coached Ohio to two of the best seasons in program history including a school record 27 wins in 2015.
Boldon finds success utilizing a motion-based offense that prioritizes extra passes and a 4-person out, one-person offensive formation, along with other similarities men's guard Gavin Block has seen between the two teams.
“They kind of have the same deal that we do: they lost a lot of players from last year,” Block said alluding to the women’s team losing second-best leading scorer Kiyanna Black to graduation and the men’s team losing Campbell to a broken foot.
But while the men used offense to jump into contention, the women used defense.
Boldon and company have led the MAC in points allowed — a staple defensive category in basketball — for two of the previous three seasons. In 2014-15, Ohio surrendered just 56.5 points per game — the 26th-best in the NCAA. A year later: 60 points per game.
“I like that we switch on defense and it requires you to be able to play every position,” women's guard Taylor Agler said.
Despite similar results and potential, the two teams play in different worlds, too.
As Phillips personality booms and claps, Boldon’s is more soft and serious.
And the relationship between the two coaches can be summarized in a simple Phillips anecdote: “Like I said, if there’s a chart of oxygen used in the room, I’m using up 85 percent.”
From Boldon’s perspective: “I enjoy listening to him. One, he’s got a great basketball mind. A large part of coaching is about developing plays for your team and a large part of coaching is developing relationships with your players and he does a really good job at both.”
The two have leaned on each other before.
Phillips said they’ve talked basketball before despite using two different systems — and personalities — to find success.
“I do all the talking, he never says anything.” Phillips said of Boldon with a laugh. “He’s a really good coach. I ask him basketball questions. I sneak out and watch some of his practices. I like the way his team plays. He’s a joy to work with. He gets it. And when he does say two words put together it’s usually pretty funny.”
- Jimmy Watkins and Cameron Fields contributed to this report.