One-on-one with new assistant coach Dionne Phelps


New assistant men’s basketball coach Dionne Phelps watches over practice on Nov. 10.

Following the departure of Brandon Weems, Oakland filled the vacant assistant men’s basketball coaching position with former Oklahoma City University head coach Dionne Phelps. Phelps, who has coached at multiple schools in Texas and Oklahoma for the last twenty years, comes to Oakland after spending his last four years at Oklahoma City. Before that, he spent time as an assistant coach at Oklahoma and was there for current NBA star Blake Griffin and Oklahoma’s elite eight run.

The Oakland Post sat down with Phelps over the weekend.

OP: Five years head coaching at OKC, what made you decide to come take an assistant coaching position here?

Phelps: It really wasn’t in that context, it’s an opportunity to get back to a division one level. This is one of those programs where you have a head coach that’s been here for 32 years and so there’s a lot to learn from him. They’ve had a lot of success here so it’s a great opportunity.

OP: You’ve spent time coaching at several schools in Texas and Oklahoma, did they prepare you for the weather we’re going to have here in Michigan?

Phelps: You know what, it has been some time for me. We had a couple of seasons in Oklahoma where it was cold but I’m not sure if it was as cold as it is up here. We’ve had a few tough Christmases there. I was actually born in Detroit but left at an early age. From there, I moved out to the Northwest, I lived in Tacoma, Washington for some time.

OP: So what did you know about Oakland before you came here?

Phelps: Really, it was the style of play. I watched them play in a couple of NCAA tournaments and seeing them in early rounds, they’re a fast place to play and they like to get some shots up.

OP: Did you know Kampe before arriving?

Phelps: I did not, just kind of heard of him. I didn’t know him personally, I just knew that he’s done a great job up here and he’s run a great respectable program for a long time.

OP: What role will you play in coaching this team?

Phelps: Right now, I’m working with Drew Valentine with the guards. Outside of that, our responsibilities are pretty much the same once we get off the court. Right now, we’re working on scouting and everything else is recruiting and preparing for games and trying to help these players become the better players that they want to be.

OP: What have you seen from the team so far?

Phelps: I’m very impressed with them, definitely not surprised though. Having a high-level point guard in Kahlil Felder and the size for a mid major program, we have really good size. And the talent in our size is pretty comparable to some of the power conference teams I’ve seen.  I’ve seen Big 12 programs that didn’t have the same type of size we’ve got. That’s probably the most surprising thing that I’ve seen.

OP: You spent time at Oklahoma, a power conference team, what’s the major difference between that and a mid-major school?

Phelps: Probably in the power conferences, you have to have at least two or three NBA level players in your program at a time. I think here what we’ve seen is that Kampe has gotten some guys to excel beyond what anyone thought they could be. Kampe has done a heck of a job getting guys playing in the NBA and overseas. There’s three or four guys here that I think have a shot to play in the big leagues.

OP:So you’re ready to say we’ve got a couple of NBA players on this roster?

Phelps: It’s unbelievable if you look in the NBA right now, there’s a lot of guys that maybe weren’t projected to be where they are right now but because of their work ethic and their drive, they’ve made it. To be honest with you, I think we have guys here that if they lock in and push themselves, the sky could be the limit.

OP: Talk a little about what you’ve seen from Kahlil Felder

Phelps: I tell you what, Felder is really really good. And the scary thing about that is that he still has two years left. He’s as explosive as any guard I’ve seen in all my time coaching. I’ve had the opportunity to be around two McDonald’s all American guards in Willie Warren and Tommy Mason-Griffin and I’ll tell you what, I’d put K up against them any day of the week.

OP: You spent some time with Blake Griffin at Oklahoma, talk about your relationship with him.

Phelps: Well we make contact about once or twice a year, he’s a very busy guy. If I go out to L.A. I’ll always make sure I get a chance to see him. Coaching a guy like that is really, Blake is probably one of the easier guys to coach because he’s so competitive and has a high sense of urgency and he loves to be in the gym and work. Any time you find guys that are dedicated to their craft like him, they’re very easy to coach.

OP: Long-term goals for you?

Phelps: Mostly just to keep having the opportunity to teach the game. I enjoy being around the athletes, and help them fulfill some of their goals. As long as I can be around athletes in any capacity, helping them with their game, that’s where I want to be.