Phil Sellers, Rutgers’ all-time leading scorer and rebounder who led the school to the 1976 Final Four, has died, the school announced. He was 69.
Rutgers said in a statement Wednesday that Sellers died on Wednesday, September 20, 2023, at the age of 69.
Who was Phil Sellers?
Phillip Sellers Jr. was an American professional basketball player for the Detroit Pistons of the National Basketball Association.
Born on November 20, 1953 in Brooklyn, New York, Phillip Sellers played high school basketball at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn.
He achieved success at the prep level, winning the MVP Award of Pittsburgh’s Dapper Dan Tournament, a tournament with the nation’s top high school players, at the end of his senior season.
He also earned Third-Team Parade All-American honors at Jefferson and received over 200 scholarship offers from colleges across the country to play basketball.
Phil Sellers signed a letter of intent to play at Notre Dame, but academic concerns made him reconsider and so he attended Livingston College in New Jersey, a part of Rutgers University specially designed to help students from low-income backgrounds.
At Rutgers, Sellers was recruited by and played under then-assistant coach and future college basketball legend Dick Vitale.
His decision to become a Scarlet Knight was initially criticized as Rutgers was a small, unheralded and independent program at the time but Sellers found instant success, averaging 19.5 ppg in his freshman season, helping lead Rutgers to the 1973 National Invitation Tournament (NIT) and then following that up in his second season with 23.2 ppg and another NIT appearance.
Sellers and Rutgers continued their winning ways in 1974-75, finishing with a 22-7 record and the first NCAA Tournament appearance, losing a first round game to Louisville 91-78 with Sellers scoring 29 points.
Rutgers took another step in 1975-76. Sellers, a senior and Consensus Second Team All-American, led the team to a 31–0 start, averaging a double-double of 19.2 ppg and 10.2 rpg, the Scarlet Knights advanced to the NCAA Tournament, winning games over Princeton 54-53, Connecticut 93-79, and VMI 91-75 to advance to the Final Four.
The team finished 31–2, with their only two losses occurring in the national semifinals, 86-70 to Michigan and then the third-place game to UCLA 106-92.
Phil Sellers graduated from Rutgers in 1976 and is still the school’s all-time leading scorer (2,399) and rebounder (1,115). On January 16, 1988, he had his jersey number (#12) retired, making him one of only three Scarlet Knights players to have ever been so honored.
After graduating from Rutgers, Phil Sellers was picked in the third round (38th overall) of the 1976 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons.
The 6’4″ Sellers changed to the guard position, having played forward in college, and struggled with the increased ball-handling responsibilities. Sellers said, “I couldn’t play guard.
They had doubts. Even me, I had doubts.” Sellers spent the year with Detroit, playing the tumultuous 1976-77 Detroit Pistons season with Marvin “Bad News” Barnes, averaging 4.5 ppg in 44 games. He was released prior to the following season.
After his release by Detroit, Sellers played for the Jersey Shore Bullets in the Continental Basketball Association and then for BV Amstelveen in the Netherlands.
He tried out for the Pistons again in 1979, under his former assistant coach at Rutgers Dick Vitale, but was cut before the season began.
Phil Sellers death
Phil Sellers died on September 20, 2023, at the age of 69.
Phil Sellers is Rutgers royalty,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said in a story posted to Rutgers’ official website. “He is the greatest player on the greatest team in our program’s history. His jersey is one of three that hang up in the rafters. … He was the ultimate role model for our current Scarlet Knights. Rutgers men’s basketball sends our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones. We love you Phil `The Thrill’!
Phil Sellers cause of death
Phil Sellers had a series of medical setbacks this year, including an intestinal perforation and a build up of fluid in his lungs, that required multiple surgeries and left him in a rehabilitation center.
He suffered a stroke earlier this month and he did not recover, a family spokesman told NJ.com.
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