Pitt tandem select wrestling over basketball, end up champions


That didn’t appear. Years in advance, Micky Phillippi — similar to any 6-yr-old could do — dutifully accompanied his father to the Derry basketball courts, even though the future Pitt wrestling champion had different ideas. “I saw (wrestling), and I stated I need to try this,” Phillippi said. “My dad stated, ‘I don’t realize. You have to play basketball.’ “We’d visit the park and play basketball, and I stated, ‘I don’t want to do that. I want to struggle.’ ” And so he did. “I went and tried it, and I cherished it,” Phillippi said. “The entire circle of relatives fell in love with it.”

Today, Thomas and Phillippi are ACC champions and will convey Pitt’s first-rate hopes for more great gold when the NCAA championships open Thursday at PPG Paints Arena. Thomas, who wrestles at 285 kilos although he’s often as many as 50 kilos lighter than his opponents, holds no ill will closer to the coaches whose mystery percent stored him off the basketball court. The wrestling train stated

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Thomas’s skills would be higher served in his group. “I’m grateful,” Thomas said. “I’m here in which I am now due to wrestling.” Given how he placed himself on his new route as a child, when Phillippi says, “This is what I worked my whole life for,” he genuinely method it. Both wrestlers are off to precise starts inside the postseason. Phillippi changed into named the maximum precious wrestler on the ACC championships last weekend and is seeded No. Four at nationals at 133 pounds with a report of nineteen-2. Thomas is 26-4, and the No. Eight seed. Pitt additionally might be represented by way of No. 12 seed Taleb Rahmani (sixteen-6) at 157; No. Thirteen Nino Bonaccorsi of Bethel Park (19-6) at 184; and No. 23 Kellan Stout of Mt. Lebanon (12-eight) at 197. Rahmani and Bonaccorsi had been ACC runners-up, and Stout earned a wild-card berth.

For Thomas, he is wrestling glad his urge to do matters on his own. “You get to carry out for yourself. You get to peer the work you put in, get to look if it can pay off or now not. You get immediate results. I’m not towards team sports activities. There are quite a few excellent individuals in team sports. “The example I like to apply is (Carolina Panthers linebacker) Luke Kuechly. He’s a top-notch linebacker. He became Rookie of the Year while he came out (in 2012), but the Panthers as a group didn’t do nicely. (In wrestling), your paintings are what you get. If you need to win, you better put inside the paintings.” Thomas grew up a football player — he played the middle, protective line, and linebacker — but while he was 14, his cousin endorsed wrestling as a way to live in the form in the offseason. Although he wasn’t recruited in either sport, Thomas leaned closer to wrestling and has become a forty-match winner and an NAIA heavyweight champion as a freshman at Williams Baptist (Ark.).

Thomas stated Williams Baptist matches his personality. “The college may be very remote,” he stated. “If you power 15 mins one way and 15 minutes the other way, there is nothing but rice fields and cornfields. I cherished it there. I’m a completely remoted character myself.” Eventually, his skills on the mat demanded more exposure, and he ended up at Pitt this season. His goal this week is not anything brief of a countrywide championship. “If you move into the tournament anticipating much less, you shouldn’t cross,” he said. “I’ll give not anything much less than my excellent. If my fine at that second isn’t top sufficient, then I cross lower back to the drawing board and hold operating until it’s suitable enough to be on top. I even have numerous grit.” Thomas stated his weight fluctuates between 232 and 240, which doesn’t always place him at a disadvantage within the 285-pound weight magnificence. “My first loss changed into to guy who changed into around 270-280,” he stated. “It turned into my fault that I misplaced. I turned into trying to throw him. It’s hard to throw a guy that large. I’ll stick with my sports plan.” Because of the burden limits, wrestlers need to watch what they devour. Thomas loads up on carbs in the morning, has a fruit cup before practice “to spark metabolism and get my body going,” and permits himself a bit of ice cream “right here and there.” Phillippi, who does his very own cooking every night, said he weighs 142 pounds “on an awesome day.”

That sounds tricky for a wrestler inside the 133 weight magnificence. However, it’s without a doubt approximately proper. “You lose 4 or five kilos (of water weight) in an exercise,” he said. He said he has oatmeal and eggs for breakfast, hen, rice, and vegetables for dinner (except for an occasional pizza). There’s additionally a Chinese restaurant in Derry where he reveals “cheat meals.” Phillippi, a 3-time PIAA champion, changed into recruited by using Pitt to begin with dedicated to Virginia. “It turned into tough announcing no to (Pitt assistant Drew Headlee),” he stated. After one season at Virginia, Phillippi transferred to Pitt, successfully believing he’d be cozier closer to domestic. He by no means has competed at nationals; however, while he went as a spectator and watched Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph (Central Catholic) win one of his NCAA championships, “I was given chills.” Phillippi advised himself, “I can try this.” But he said he ought to approach the mat with the proper mindset. “If you positioned quite a few strains on yourself, it’s hard to compete at the very best stage that you could,” he stated. “Don’t make it a large deal. It’s wrestling. It’s what I’ve carried out my whole life. It’s what we teach each day to do. “If I don’t make it larger than its miles, that’s how I’ll do the excellent.”