Phelps signs with Florida juco|[04/09/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hoping to follow in the footsteps of such high-caliber guards like Clarence Sanders of Ole Miss and Brandon Vincent of Mississippi State, Vicksburg High’s Jonathan Phelps, the 2007-08 Vicksburg Post Player of the Year, signed Tuesday with Okaloosa-Walton College.

OWC, located in Niceville, Fla., plays in the Panhandle Conference, one of the most competitive junior college leagues in the nation. Coach Bruce Stewart’s Raiders went 27-4 this past season, losing to Chipola College in the regional title game.

Michael Phelps, Jonathan’s father who played three seasons in the NBA, said OWC was a good fit for his son.

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“All the information we got is that Okaloosa-Walton is a great program. Our research showed that it would be a great fit for our son,” Michael Phelps said. “It was very important to me that Jonathan gets a chance to pursue his dream of going to college, play basketball, and pursue his career. What was great to hear from Coach Stewart was the track record he’s had in developing players to go to Division I. He really works in maturing the kid in this area. He showed us a long list of players who went on to play in Division I.”

Sanders, who led Ole Miss in 2007 with 16.1 points a game, is one of the more prominent players to have played at OWC. Vincent was a star guard during his time at State. Donell and Ronell Taylor are two more OWC graduates and they went on to lead Alabama-Birmingham to the NCAA Tournament’s regional finals.

“Coach Stewart seems to have a lot of good connections at the next level,” Jonathan Phelps said. “I feel like I have a big opportunity. I think I will fit in well with hard work.”

One of the first things Stewart told Phelps was to settle on a position. At Vicksburg, he played both shooting guard and point guard. He averaged 28 points a game as a junior. With a better supporting cast this past season, his average dropped to 23.7 but the Gators were one of the best teams in the state, finishing 29-8 and reaching the Class 4A State Tournament.

“Coach Stewart came out and flatly said that Jonathan would play strictly as a point guard,” Michael Phelps said. “He would be the quarterback.”

Jonathan Phelps said his style of play, and that of OWC, were a good match.

“His style is pretty much what we were doing at Vicksburg,” Jonathan said. “He said with my body size that point guard would be right for me. He wants his point guard to penetrate, dish out to the open man and be able to hit perimeter shots.”