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The real Captain Phillips

New Hollywood film highlights courage of former student-athlete, NCAA Award of Valor winner

Phillips receiving the NCAA Award of Valor in 2010

President Obama lauded him as an American hero. The world was captivated by his leadership and sacrifice.

Now, Hollywood’s version of Richard Phillips’ harrowing experience as a hostage of Somali pirates debuts this week.

Phillips is a merchant mariner and 1979 graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where he lettered in basketball for the Buccaneers. He is also the inspiration for the Hollywood blockbuster “Captain Phillips,” which opens Friday in theaters nationwide.

The film stars Tom Hanks and is adapted from Phillips’ memoir, “A Captain’s Duty.” It chronicles perilous days in April 2009, when the captain of the Maersk Alabama surrendered himself to ensure his crew’s safety after pirates hijacked his merchant vessel in the Indian Ocean. After four days in captivity at sea, Phillips was rescued by U.S. Navy SEALS.

“I share the country's admiration for the bravery of Capt. Phillips and his selfless concern for his crew,” President Barack Obama said after Phillips’ rescue. “His courage is a model for all Americans.”

The NCAA presented Phillips with its Award of Valor in 2010. The NCAA Award of Valor is presented to current or former student-athletes, coaches or administrators who averted or minimized potential disaster by showing uncommon bravery and courage in the face of grave personal danger.

Phillips credited his athletics experience with shaping his mental toughness and helping him survive his captivity.

“What I did is give them, the pirates, a way to get off the ship,” Phillips said in a video interview with the NCAA that accompanied the Valor award. “They couldn’t find my crew. The ship wasn’t moving. They figured the military was on the way. They wanted to get off the ship. I knew the chance of them giving me up might have been slim, but for me it solved three of my four problems. My crew, my ship and my cargo was safe. Then, I just had to worry about myself.”