Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Academics Over Everything At Bedford Academy

For 15-20 minutes, Bedford Academy Dean and boys head basketball coach Rob Phelps waxed poetic about the advantages each Bedford Academy student has.

 Away from the hothouse environment that is New York City hoops and sporting a dapper suit, Phelps touched on the academic culture synonymous with his perennially potent PSAL 'A' program.

The school’s morgue-like quiet code, after-school tutoring program, and prestigious academic programs were several selling stones for one of the city’s most reputable small-school institutions.

The dean and head basketball coach at Bedford Academy, the former prolific scorer/3-point sniper at Nazareth High doesn’t just make excellence in the classroom a bedrock principle of his program, he demands it.

 Regular New York State and NYC eligibility requirements don’t garner any points in Phelps’ system. The bar is set high. The mountainous standards must be met in order to touch the hardwood.

 To stay on the court for the long haul, each player must sustain at least an 82 average.

Report Card day parallels city championships on the barometer of importance. The school has become a virtual launch-pad for Ivy League students.

It’s a small 300-student institution tucked away in the now gentrified neighborhood on sprawling Bedford Ave., Brooklyn’s longest avenue at 10.2 miles.

While Bedford installs a 12-month program, rife with tournaments such as Dean Street and its own Scrimmage Wars, the school's titanic academic reputation is first and foremost. This is no overkilled cliché or lip service.

Without applying any used car salesmen-type tactics, without forcing the issue, Phelps pointed out the positive draws of everyday life at Bedford Academy.

“You hear that?” Said Phelps, acknowledging crickets-esque silence, a rarity for any New York City school district.

“There’s small classes here, a 16-to-1 teacher-to-student ratio. There’s no graffiti on the walls. Each and every one of the kids is respectful. If they do act up or get out of line, they have to answer to me.”

Phelps pauses, his laid-back demeanor evaporating. A cold, stern, and serious look suddenly etches across his face.

“Trust me, they don’t want to have to deal with me.”

As students filtered out of the tiny door bordering the building at dismissal, Phelps referred to his own mental analytics system.

“You see that girl right there? She’s got a 92 average, advanced regents diploma and she’s an athlete,” Phelps says.

 “The girl next to her, 88 average. She's now in two AP classes and wants to be a doctor. She’s been accepted into every college she’s applied to so far, including Wesleyan in Connecticut. The girl leaving right now, 95 average.”

Another student walks by, sporting a mischievous smile. As he approaches Phelps, who heeds him this way, his whole demeanor changes

“This is one of the jokesters, I had to set him straight a couple of times his freshman year, he’ll tell you about it,” Phelps said of the now-sophomore as he approaches.

“He’s one of the school’s few knuckleheads and yet he still has an 87 average and four regents diplomas.”

Featuring a next door YMCA, one which grants all Bedford Academy students year round access, Bedford boasts seductive recruiting tools that most high schools at this level crave.

A weight room and an Olympic-size pool are just two amenities of this partnership.

 Phelps is quick to admit, however, the Bedford Academy is not for everyone.

There are daunting challenges which only a rarified brand of student is tailored for.

 While Phelps, like any coach in the city, would love to nurture waves of Gotham’s top-tier talent at the rate of Lincoln, Bishop Loughlin and Christ The King, the rigorous academic requirements and quality of the kid are weighed heavily. It's surely not for everyone.

Bedford Academy is a Screening School, with computer technology and engineering as two of its keystone programs.

Post-school tutoring keeps the kids engaged. All after school activities, sports and clubs, require at least an 82 average.

The accountability has translated onto the court. As Phelps giddily concludes his grand tour of the small campus, he points to a trophy showcase that’s stacked to the brim with hardware.

 On the court, Bedford’s theme of pressure across the court will again resurface this season.

 The amped up pressure begins with three-year starter Anthony Munson, a junior guard known to make perilous scorers work for every point.

At Dean Street, Munson’s knack for attacking the rim and innate toughness was evident.

 This season, he’ll adjust from role player to alpha dog by scoring, handling, and operating offense as effectively as executes the team’s patented clamp down operation.

 He’ll be the one to supply the high-pressure shots and key defensive steps.

 “We need him to step up from being a 12-13 points per game scorer to being more a 20-points per game scorer,” said Phelps.

 “He really has to bear the load of scoring points, him and Ian (Roach). That’s where a bulk of our scoring is going to come from.”

 Roach, now boasting a more polished perimeter game, will help spread the floor out.

Packing on muscle, range, and a hunting for his shot more than ever, Roach developed an assassin's instinct  during a long summer of in-house training.

 Working with Phelps and former Nazaerth coach and PSAL commissioner Ted Gustus, Roach learned the respect has to be earned.

 He’s subscribed to a 500-shots-a-night regimen, adding on NBA 3-point range. He’s developed a quicker release.

 Outspoken about how staunchly opposed he is to AAU and the circuit’s murky underworld, Phelps made team camps and team open gyms a necessity.

While Munson, as fierce an on-the-ball defender Phelps has groomed during his time at Bedford, went 45-3 on a deep summer slate with New Heights, the 6-foot-2 guard said his first commitment is his high school team.

Helping nurture Munson’s production is the same group of friends he grew up learning the game’s niceties with since third grade.

 Point guard Anthony Gibbs, combo guard Romello Ford, and swingman Trevis Wigfall have all flanked Munson since his early days.

This quartet continues to push each other’s evolution on the court and off it, forming a gym rat clique.

 The chemistry is palpable.

 Because of Phelps around-the-clock program, which includes 6 a.m. early bird workouts, Bedford’s identity always takes shape before the season arrives.

The off-season is where much of the work leading into the season is done, as Bedford will enter 2014-15 knowing what they’re capable of and what’s demanded of them.