CLASS 2A GIRLS Phelps putting in work
November 8, 2009
LITTLE ROCK Even as an eighth-grader, Megan Phelps showed signs of promise.
Five years later, as a senior, the Hartford forward has made good on that promise.
Phelps, 5-7, has become a versatile big-time scorer and is one of the key pieces for a Lady Hustlers team focused on ending about a 60-year state tournament drought.
Hartford has made six consecutive trips to the regional tournament, but each time it has been eliminated in the first round and failed to advance to the state tournament. It was particularly frustrating last season, when Hartford lost by three points to Mount Ida in the opening round of regional play.
“It’s been very promising and frustrating at the same time,” Phelps said. “We get so close. We’re right there and within reach.
“Last year it was real hard to accept that we didn’t make it.”
Phelps is determined to make that happen this season after averaging 17.2 points a game last season. She is expected to be one of the top returners in the 4-2A Conference this season.
“She’s heady, a straight-A student who carries that out onto the court,” Hartford Coach Steve Moody said. “She’s always been very coachable, and I think in part that’s why she’s where she’s at.
“Even back at seventh or eighth grade, she always stayed after school or practice. Whenever we told her ‘This is how you do it’, she took everything we told her to heart. There was no question of ‘How come?’
“Now she’s really reaping the benefits of it.”
Phelps is usually the last one to leave the gym at Hartford. On a recent day, practice had ended about 3:45 p.m. and Moody walked out to head home around 4:45.
Phelps was still on the floor,firing up jump shots from various spots.
That’s a typical ritual. Phelps usually sets a post-practice goal of not leaving until she makes more than 50 percent of her shot attempts. Sometimes that means hanging around a little longer.
“Some days it’s easier, some days I’m a little off,” she said. “I usually stay anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. I’m pretty tired. I was there for two hours once.
“The more I’ve practiced, the better my shot got. I just love it, being in the gym after school and shooting as long as I can.”
Phelps’ path to becoming one of the conference’ best players had humble origins. She didn’t play much as a seventh-grader, and in her eighth grade year she played for a junior high team that finished 0-18.
Moody called Phelps’ freshman season her breakout year, when the junior high team made a dramatic turnaround to 19-4 and Phelps was named the conference MVP.
She’s continued progressing since. Moody points to Phelps’ shooting as the biggest improvement in her game over the years.
“In the beginning, she was not someone I depended on in taking outside shots,” Moody said. “Over time, she now shoots the ball unbelievably. Now she makes them when someone’s in her face. She has one of those rare knacks for shooting the ball.
“She spends the time, and that’s probably the reason why she’s such a good shooter.”
The Lady Hustlers have an effective point guard in junior Rachel Horine, so Phelps is free to roam around the court and get open. She can hit shots from the wings or the corners, but she’s also strong enough to get inside and post up when teams play man-to-man defense.
Phelps takes pride in her extra work put it in after practice, and her 4.0 grade-point average will help her quest to earn a scholarship and play college basketball somewhere.
“As I’ve played, I realized that I can do more,” she said. “The confidence level built up as I continued to do well.”
Moody said he has seen more talented players get a lot less out of their game than Phelps.
“It’s always a shame because you see those kids out there who have athleticism running all over the place and no dedication,” Moody said. “The other side, you see the kids out there who are busting their butts but maybe never see the floor.
“As athletic as she is, Megan is here because she works hard.”
Special, Pages 94 on 11/08/2009