The enduring image of Isaiah Philmore at Xavier will probably be his layup against St. Joe's in last year's Atlantic 10 tournament. That's unfortunate for a player who gave so much to Xavier after starting his career as a star at a smaller school. In the vein of Jamel McLean, Philmore passed up his chance to dominate at a lower level in order to bring his game to Xavier.
And it was partly because of his game that Philmore will forever be remembered not for a shot he made, but for one he missed. Isaiah was never far away from the basket, and he was absolutely always working himself weary inside. In Isaiah Philmore Coach Chris Mack uncovered a relentless rebounder who was alwasy willing to do whatever it was on the court that needed done. Even that somewhat downplays Philmore's abilities, as he scored 1,169 points for his career.
Career Xavier stats:
8.4/5.0/.5 on .547/.100/.676 shooting
When Philmore arrived it was as something other than what he became. Our first look at him mentioned parts of his game Xavier fans will not be familiar with: "Philmore averaged 15/7/1 last year as a sophomore, and managed a respectable .353 from behind the arc. While they three point number is hardly world beating, it would have looked nice on this year's team. Philmore was something of a stat stuffer, blocking nearly one shot and grabbing nearly one steal per game. His efficiency on the offensive end wasn't great, as he scored 1.34 points per shot, a number more in line with a guard."
That writeup from May 26th of 2011 is probably the last time that any Musketeer fans held out much hope for Philmore as an outside shooter. Also notable in that article is a picture of Philmore weighting about 20 pounds less than he does now and flying through the air for a layup. As he moved to a team that was, at the time, guard dominated, Isaiah loaded up on the muscle and prepared to spend his career under the bucket.
And that's exactly what he did. Of the roughly 5,000 athletes occupying spots NCAA DI basketball rosters, Philmore never failed to be in the top ten percent in offensive rebounding rate. The 11.4% he put up in his junior year was a career high and was good enough for 165th in the nation. That dropped to 9.9% and 303rd this year, but that drop came with a commensurate increase on the other end. While his rebounding became Philmore's calling card, he was no slouch offensively, either.
This season was Philmore's best offensively. He averaged 9.3 points per contest, his best since the 15.3 he put while playing lower level competition at Towson. Philmore's offensive efficiency was 110.7, the best of his career, his true shooting percentage was 59.2%, and his effective field goal percentage was 54.1%. In short, Philmore was never more efficient or a better shooter than he was this year.
But what Isaiah Philmore brought to the team was never really about numbers, no matter how good those numbers were. He was, quietly, always there when the team needed him. His biggest "failure" came in a game that even winning would have left Xavier a long way from where they needed to be. Conversely, he stepped up this year when the team was down. Against Alabama he went for 17/12/0 in a three point win, against Georgetown in the comeback game, it was 14/5/0. From the 25th of February on, when Xavier desperately needed wins, Philmore shot 67% and poured in 12.7 points per contest.
Even that doesn't really describe what it was Philmore did. Search his name on Twitter and you'll get plenty of results that mention toughness. It seems like Isaiah was forever retrieving his goggles, picking himself up off the floor, or walking back onto the court after a dive into the photographers. Philmore never hesitated to abuse his body in any possible way for the betterment of the team. For someone who called his move to Xavier "the greatest decision ever," he never seemed to take it for granted, consistently working like a walk-on while playing the minutes of a scholarship athlete.
So maybe some people will remember Philmore against St. Joe, but I'll choose to remember him as the guy who shook that off and came back to play the best season of his career, as the guy who never hesitated to do what the team needed, when they needed it, and as the guy who simply refused to stop working. Farewell, Isaiah Philmore, you will be missed.