OGDEN — Ogden High and Ben Lomond’s girls basketball teams walked out onto Phil Russell Basketball Court on Tuesday night wearing the same white T-shirt over their game uniforms.
The shirts had both schools’ logos on them surrounding a bigger logo that read: “The 1st Annual Phil Russell Memorial Game 2021.”
Tuesday night’s occasion was still a basketball game between the two city rivals, but it also served as a way to honor Russell for his contributions to Ogden High School.
Russell, a longtime teacher, girls basketball coach and athletic director at OHS, died in November 2020 of complications due to COVID-19, which he battled for more than a month.
At halftime of the game, many members of Russell’s family who were in attendance — including two of his siblings, his two sons Matt and Mike, and their children — went onto center court where fans and Ogden’s players gave a standing ovation in Russell’s memory after the public address announcer thanked Russell for his service to Ogden High.
“It means the world to us, so many people have just gone out of their way,” said Mike Russell, the youngest of Phil’s two sons. “This is above and beyond what my dad would expect and what we would expect, so we really couldn’t say thank you enough to say how we feel. It’s such a nice gesture by so many people.”
Someone who didn’t know anything about Russell would be able to quickly discern he was an important figure in the school’s history just by walking into the gymnasium.
There’s a large silver plaque near the west basket that details who he is and his career accomplishments at OHS.
There are trophy cabinets in the hallway just behind the scorer’s table on the gym’s north side that are filled to the brim with mementos of Russell’s time as head coach.
There’s the five state championship trophies with the cut-down nets hanging around them, team photos throughout the decades, the first girls basketball uniform worn in school history for the 1974-75 season (T-shirts were worn in the 73-74 season) — and signed basketballs commemorating the aforementioned state championships, plus for the game when Russell won his then-state record 500th game as a head coach in 2013.
“He was known by every one of us,” said Ogden senior Caitlin Richardson, the recipient of a recently established $500 scholarship in Russell’s name that will go to a Tigers senior girls basketball player every year.
“I’ve been able to connect, and I know my brother has, with people I didn’t know that knew my dad that reached out whether they shared a story or just a heartfelt condolence. It’s been pretty cool just how many people have reached out,” Mike Russell said.
In years past, Phil Russell himself probably would’ve been sitting at the scorer’s table as the public address announcer, something he enjoyed doing for basketball and volleyball games after he retired from teaching.
He would also occasionally come and talk to the team where part of his advice, to the surprise of nobody who knew him, would be “shoot the ball.”
“I’m glad that we’re doing this tradition now,” Richardson said. “It was awesome to start it as a senior. Since he was like the winningest coach in Utah and everything, it was awesome to represent him and honor him.”
Ogden, with its players wearing the team’s Russell-themed anthracite jerseys that were debuted last month, came out and won in eventually resounding fashion, beating the Scots 49-21.
The Tigers, who were listed as “Russell” on the electronic scoreboard, led 19-11 at halftime and quickly grew the lead.
A trophy goes to the team that wins this particular matchup, and each team had a player awarded a trophy as an impact player of the game.
Ogden’s impact player trophy went to Ashlen White, a senior who scored nine points with three rebounds and two assists. Ben Lomond’s impact player trophy went to junior Avery Beadles, who scored 12 points, tied for a game-high with Ogden’s Grace Pulley.
Mike Russell, who coaches the women’s basketball team at Snow College, then spoke to the Ogden team after the game.
“Just by looking at some of the names on the back of your jerseys, I know some of your parents played for my dad,” he said.
He thanked them for dedicating their season to his father and briefly imparted some advice, telling the players to make the most of their time playing high school basketball because it will be over faster than they realize.