Instead of a pair of shorts, Robert Phelps is dressed in a suit, shoes, pants, dress shirt and sports jacket. His team, Bedford Academy, is seconds away from its first PSAL championship in any sport. Phelps has emptied his bench.
Yet, here is the first-year coach barking out instructions, yelling at his guard to hold the ball back, telling a forward to seal his man, moving his feet on the sidelines like he is trying to stay in front of a defender, sweating like he is racing back on the court.
“It’s like I’m still a player,” he said. “I’m still young enough to get out there and play. But I can’t. I rarely sit down.”
He shouldn’t change a thing.
Phelps led Bedford to the crown as the fourth seed.
“I had the same kind of feeling – that same energy, that same juices flowing, that same excitement,” he said of winning the PSAL Class A crown. “It brought back a lot of memories. I had that feeling 20 years ago, and they will remember that feeling when they became my age.”
The impact Phelps has made on this team was clear in the post-game celebration. The players dumped the Gatorade bucket at Phelps at halfcourt. Every player talked about what he meant. He disciplined them, but also gave them freedom to make mistakes.
ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, whom Phelps played under at Providen, called him “one of the best people I’ve ever been around.”
“When I think of Rob, I think of a great human being,” Fraschilla said. “He’s real; there’s nothing phony about him.”
Phelps isn’t sure how long he will stick with coaching. It depends, he said, on his wife, Keisha, because of all the extra time he spends with the team – getting up before 6 am and arriving at his Rego Park, Queens home as late as 8:30 pm. For now, he plans to remain on the sideline. His second life in basketball has just begun.
“I kind of love it now,” Phelps said. “I can see myself doing this for a long time. I’m having a lot of fun.”