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Mark Phelps enters his fifth season as head coach of the Bulldogs' men's basketball program in 2012-13, driven by a passion and commitment to elevate Drake to levels of consistent excellence on and off the court. His dedicated approach to recruiting and program-building over his first four seasons has established a solid foundation to achieve sustainable success.
The 2011-12 season showed significant signs of both the steady progress and potential of the Drake program, as the Bulldogs qualified for a postseason tournament for the third time in the last five seasons (2008 NCAA, 2009 CIT), and second in Phelps' four-year tenure as head coach. The first-round Collegeinsider.com Postseason Tournament win over North Dakota was Drake's first victory beyond the conference tournament since 1975. The Bulldogs won 18 games, most in Phelps' career and tied for ninth-most in school history.
In addition, Drake posted a winning record for the second time in Phelps' four years, making him the first Drake head coach in 50 years to post two winning seasons in his first four (17-16 in 2008-09). Drake's third-place finish (9-9, tied with four teams) in the Missouri Valley Conference was its second-highest in the MVC standings in the last 26 years. The 9-9 MVC record of 2011-12 was the best by Phelps and tied for second-best by a Drake team since 1986.
With 62 wins in his first four seasons, Phelps has more victories than any Drake coach in his initial four years on the job. No Drake head coach since Maury John (.555 from 1958-62) has had a better winning percentage in the equivalent span of his career than Phelps (.473).
All of that success last season was achieved without starting center Seth VanDeest, a cornerstone junior-to-be who missed the entire season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The 2011-12 Bulldogs overcame significant injury adversity that impacted the starting lineup, but were guided through the storm by a coaching staff that remained steady and consistent, helping players elevate to a new level of performance.
One of those players was 6'-8" junior co-captain Ben Simons, who played every position on the floor and more than doubled his sophomore scoring average of 8.1 to a figure of 16.4, fourth-best in the MVC in 2011-12. Simons was joined by fellow junior co-captain Jordan Clarke, who put up career-best averages of 6.0 points and 7.0 rebounds, while handling the post position at 6'-8" in VanDeest's absence.
Simons was named captain of the MVC's Most Improved Team, while also earning second-team All-MVC and second-team NABC All-District recognition along with sophomore Rayvonte Rice. Clarke was named second-team MVC Scholar-Athlete.
In the fifth year of building his program, Phelps and his coaching staff will welcome eight scholarship newcomers in 2012-13, including five freshmen and three transfers, wrapped around an experienced nucleus of five returning players who have been regular starters for the Bulldogs.
The collective talent level of the eight incoming players demonstrates the tremendous recruiting acumen of Phelps and his staff, building on previous recruiting success that has gained notice across the country. His incoming recruiting classes in 2009-10 and '10-'11 were ranked at the top of the Missouri Valley Conference. Drake's '09-'10 class was No. 1 in the MVC according to Van Coleman's Hoopmasters.com, while Scouts Inc., in conjunction with ESPN.com, rated Drake's signees for the 2010-11 class the best in the MVC, as well.
The 2011-12 Bulldogs ranked among the Valley's best teams in several statistical categories, including No. 1 in three-point field-goal pct. defense (.305) and No. 3 in steals (6.9). Drake was 16-2 when shooting a higher percentage than its opponent and 9-0 when shooting 50 percent or higher. The Bulldogs did not allow an opponent to shoot higher than 50 percent from the field for an 18-game stretch before Rice shot 53.1% in the season-ending CIT Tournament loss. Opponents in that stretch shot a combined 41.2 percent (408-991), including a figure of 39.6 percent over the last nine games (199-of-503) of the season. In addition, those nine opponents combined to shoot 49-of-217 (.226) from three-point range. Drake finished the 2011-12 season with 213 three-pointers, fifth-most in a season in school history, exceeding the 203 of 2010-11. Five of the top six seasons for three-pointers made in school history have come in the last five years, four of them under Phelps (2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th).
While building the program, Phelps experienced success in his first three seasons that already positioned him among the top coaches in school history. His 44 victories in that span were the most wins accumulated by a Bulldogs coach in his first three seasons at the helm.
In 2010-11 Phelps' Bulldogs stood out on the defensive end, leading the MVC in three-point shooting defense (.321) and ranking third in steals (5.8). The latter figure contributed to a +1.3 turnover margin. Offensive, Drake ranked third in the Valley in three-point shooting percentage (.362).
Drake in 2009-10 was the only school in the MVC to rank in the top 12 nationally in three different NCAA team statistics. The Bulldogs ranked No. 4 in turnovers per game (10.1 avg.), 10th in free throw percentage (.757) and 11th in three-point field goals per game (8.6 avg.). Drake also posted an all-time school-record low turnover total (332) during the 2009-10 season.
The Bulldogs made 284 three-point baskets in 2009-10, the second highest total in school history. Drake's .757 free throw percentage in the same year ranked third on the school's all-time single-season list.
In his first year as head coach at Drake, Phelps led the Bulldogs to a 17-16 record in 2008-09 and their second consecutive post-season tournament (CollegInsider.com Postseason Tournament), marking the first time the Drake basketball program had advanced to post-season play in two consecutive seasons since 1970-71.
Under Phelps, Drake has traditionally played a strong schedule; over the past four seasons the Bulldogs have played 66 games against teams that advanced to postseason play, including 21 last year.
Phelps was named the 25th men's head basketball coach at Drake on April 21, 2008 after serving as associate head coach at Arizona State from 2006-08.
"Mark's extensive experience as an assistant in the Pac-10 and the ACC, coupled with his commitment to the holistic development of young men, made him the ideal candidate to continue the established success of the Drake Bulldogs," said Drake Athletics Director Sandy Hatfield Clubb, upon his hire. "Mark was touted as one of the top assistant coaches in college basketball. His character and his demonstrated passion for the game are just two of the many outstanding qualities that attracted us to him. Coach Mark Phelps is a perfect fit for Drake University."
"I consider it an honor and privilege to be the head coach at Drake University," said Phelps. "President Maxwell (Drake's David) has fostered a true family environment where the 'Drake experience' is a special one for students, faculty, staff and the entire Drake community. I have tremendous respect and great appreciation for Sandy Hatfield Clubb and look forward to working together with her and the entire athletic department to continue the pursuit of excellence for Drake basketball. I could not be more excited about this opportunity."
Phelps, 46, has been a basketball coach for 23 seasons, including 16 years on the collegiate level after a highly successful high school coaching career. The Virginia Beach, Va., native had served on the coaching staff at North Carolina State under head coach Herb Sendek from 1996-2006 before joining Sendek at Arizona State in 2006.
"I am grateful for the 12 years Coach Mark Phelps invested on our staff at both N.C. State and Arizona State and most certainly recognize the wonderful impact he made," said Sendek, upon Phelps' hire at Drake. "I congratulate Mark, as he will be the consummate CEO for the Drake men's basketball program. He will represent the university as a perfect gentleman and at the same time lead the basketball program with a true competitive spirit."
Phelps was part of Sendek's staff that led North Carolina State to a 53-39 (.576) record in the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and tournament play in the final five seasons in Raleigh, N.C. The Wolfpack tied for the second most wins in the ACC from 2001 to 2006, and was one of only two ACC programs (Duke) to advance to the NCAA Tournament each of those five seasons.
Phelps joined the North Carolina State staff in 1996, serving as director of basketball operations for four years before being promoted to assistant coach in 2000. In 2005 he was named recruiting coordinator and director of scouting with the Wolfpack while continuing as an assistant coach.
Prior to joining the college ranks, Phelps, a 1996 Old Dominion University graduate, was very familiar with outstanding basketball programs having had a highly successful tenure as a high school head coach. Phelps coached his way to a 148-53 (.736 winning percentage) overall record during his six years directing a pair of Virginia independent high school teams.
Phelps spent two seasons (1994-96) at Atlantic Shores Christian High School in Chesapeake, Va., where his teams compiled a 44-12 record. His 1996 squad finished 20-3 and set school marks for winning percentage (.870) and fewest losses.
Prior to his tenure at Atlantic Shores, Phelps coached four years (1990-94) at Rock Church Academy and posted a 104-41 record. He was twice named Metro Conference Coach of the Year as the Eagles won three straight conference championships.
Each of Phelps' last five prep teams (3 at Rock, 2 at Atlantic Shores) advanced to the Virginia Independent School State Tournament. Four times he coached teams to the quarterfinals of the state tournament and twice to the state semifinals. He also served as athletics director at both high schools. Phelps began his coaching career as Rock Church Academy's junior varsity coach during the 1989-90 season.
Phelps in 2010-11 took part in the "Shots From the Heart" campaign, a free-throw shooting competition organized by the American Heart Association and CollegeInsider.com to generate awareness of the growing problem of heart disease. Competing against other head coaches in a 64-man bracket, Phelps advanced to the Elite Eight, where his 24-for-25 effort was topped by the perfect 25-for-25 of Arizona's Sean Miller.
Mark and his wife, Alissa, have a son Owen (3) and a daughter Laney (2).