Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Former Nazareth Star Phelps Creates Academics-First Environment At Bedford

Bedford Academy coach Rob Phelps is preparing for a colossal afternoon.  

One of the most prolific scorers in New York State history, once a multi-faceted 6-foot-5 kid who abused teams with workaday 30+ performances, Phelps can assure you the afternoon is immense for off-the-court reasons.
“Report cards come in this afternoon,” said Phelps.

 “This is a big day for a lot of area schools. Bedford Academy is all about academics first. If you have below an 80 average, you’re done (for the season). A lot of people think that the focus here is basketball first. Hey, we’re a good basketball school, but the focus here is on academics above everything else.”

Phelps doesn't just require an 80-plus average, he demands it with an iron fist. While academics trounce everything else at Bedford Academy, Phelps demands leadership on the court.

Orchestrating this balanced core (four players are averaging double figures) is a cerebral point guard and four-year starter in Darren Thomas.

Thomas, who won a city championship as a freshman, is a pure shooter who can facilitate and engineer the running game.

 Thomas has carried the leadership mantle, though only in spurts and phases.

Phelps would like to see Thomas, who has earned interest from programs such as UPENN, sustain the killer instinct. If the big Bedford boat sails deep into the cold, psyche-testing waters of the playoffs, that poise and leadership is essential.

 Bedford has unwavering aspirations to earn a sixth consecutive berth in the Final Four.

 “What I’m comfortable with right now is that we are really a solid defensive team,” Phelps said.

 “I think our guys play really hard defensively, they know no other way. We execute our plays, our kids execute that very well. What I’m uncomfortable with is that we don’t have a consistent leader. We need a consistent mental and emotional leader. Darren does that, but he’s very inconsistent with that. What I’m looking for is a consistent leader on an everyday basis.”

Thomas has plenty of options with knockdown shooter Ian Roach, an off guard capable of spreading the floor out and opening up the interior.

Bedford features an oil-smooth slasher in Anthony Munson, one of the team’s best on-the-ball defenders.

Layte Workman, whose game has been, well, workmanlike, has been integral to Bedford’s 12-1 record in Brooklyn A-East action.

Now averaging 15 points and nine rebounds per game, Workman has cultivated a dependable jumper, from mid-range and beyond. Michael Hilton, another hustle player as well as hot-shooting sophomore guard Anthony Gibbs have been essential ingredients.

“Our role players are very, very important,” Phelps explained. “They hold an intricate part to our success. In order for us to win, we need all five players on the court to contribute.”




At the start of Phelps' storied stay at Nazareth, he was one of just two true freshman on varsity rosters in the city.

The other? 

 Kenny Anderson, one of the most electrifying high school players of all time, at Molloy.

 The talent was spread across all five boroughs.

Phelps’ offensive pace and Anderson’s recruiting saga played out like mythical tales, from city talent evaluator’s lips’ to basketball junkies’ ears.

Stories of Anderson carving up defenders and Phelps going off for 40-point eruptions have been passed along from generation to generation like family heirloom.

 During that 1990s eon, the Mecca of basketball was luring in NCAA coaches from all across the country.

 New York City was as much of a Division-I launching pad as any area on the planet. The Rices, the Christ The Kings, the Cardinal Hayes, the Lincolns, they were are regal basketball real estate.

“That early 1990s era was a great time for high school basketball,” Phelps said.

 “You know that Kenny Anderson was the man, that Kenny Anderson was going to get his numbers regardless. You knew, when Rob Phelps walked into that door he was going to get his seven or eight threes and get in somebody’s face. Christ the King had Division-I players on the bench. Jamal Mashburn (Cardinal Hayes) was Mr. Basketball, and he wasn’t even an All-American.”

Phelps reminds his players that the success was attained through leadership and focus.

He preaches that the power is in the pencils, and that putting in laborious hours in the gym will always outweigh mind-numbing time on social media.

True to the constant grind of his heyday, Phelps would like to see more kids savor the leadership role.

“There are too many followers,” said Phelps.

“They get a little too comfortable sometimes. I think for us the main thing is to have that leadership concept, and get people to step up and want to be a leader. I tell them all the time, ‘If I was playing in this generation, I would have averaged 60 points per game.’ If Kenny Anderson were playing in this generation, he would have averaged 70 points a game.”


Under Nazareth coach and legendary Canarsie player Ted Gustus, the high-impact defense was ingrained in Phelps.

When Phelps captained Rick Barnes’ team at Providence College, the defensive focus and energy was integral.

During that time, the early to mid-90s, the Big East was one of the best and arguably the most physical conference in the country.

Phelps has been able to incorporate this swarming pressure-first philosophy into his own coaching acumen at Bedford.

 “Defense was the basis of everything, that’s the first thing I picked up with coach Gustus, the legendary coach Gustus that is,” Phelps explained.

Once a cold-blooded scorer who fought mercilessly through picks and screens to get his shot off, who barreled through double teams, who had an extra edge for high-stakes games in high-pressure environments, Phelps threaded through defenses and perused what the defense gave him.

This afternoon, Phelps is perusing through report cards and making sure everyone is up to par.

“The main thing for us, basketball-wise, is that we all get on the same page as a unit. I’m still searching for that. They can finish up strong. It depends on their report cards today. They know if they fail a class, if they get under an 80 average for the marking period, they can kiss the game goodbye here.”