O'Dowd defeated San Leandro, 47-35, on Wednesday night at the cramped O'Dowd gym to give Phelps his 800th win in a career that began when he was 23 years old in 1971.
It figured to be a tough game and it was as San Leandro features 6-10 center Le'Var Halsell and several other talented players. With four minutes left, a basket by Sam Fredotovich for San Leandro tied the score. But the Dragons then went on a 11-0 run, highlighted by two three-pointers from Pete Beoris, to take a 43-32 lead with two minutes left.
As the clock ticked down, everyone in the gym knew the milestone win would be completed and chants of "eight hun-dred" were loud and clear.
According to the CalHiSports Record Book and Almanac, Phelps becomes just the third coach in state history to reach 800 career wins. Lou Cvijanovich, who coached at Santa Clara of Oxnard from 1959 to 1999, is the state record holder with 829 career wins. The only other coach on the list is Abe Abrami from Emery of Emeryville, who had a reported 802 wins from 1955-1993.
If Phelps continues his winning ways (his team this year improved to 11-2 and the Dragons have been averaging 25 wins per year for many years), he should surpass Cvijanovich's all-time state best total sometime next season.
But career win totals have never meant much to Phelps, who understated his latest milestone in comments to the Oakland Tribune.
"I've never scored a basket in any of the 800 wins," Phelps told the newspaper. "You have to be around a long time. I've had a lot of good players."
Phelps began his career with an eight-year stint at nearby St. Joseph of Alameda. He switched to O'Dowd in 1979 with one year off for a sabbatical. Three of his teams since then have played in the CIF Division I state finals. One lost in overtime. One lost when a last-second shot that would have won the game clanged off the back rim and another lost when a last-second tipin that would have won the game was ruled to have been made after the buzzer sounded.
There's no telling how many CIF divisional state titles the Dragons would have if Phelps and his teams stayed in their enrollment division. But he has been steadfast and consistent in his wishes to keep his team in the very top division. Since the CIF went to enrollment based divisions in 1988, O'Dowd has moved up to Division I every year.
And while Phelps did coach the NBA's Brian Shaw at O'Dowd, he has not been blessed with a ton of major college recruits. Many have been like current guard Dave Brutocao-Kemp, excellent high school players who are low on the recruiting radar screen.
"Eight hundred wins is huge," Brutocao-Kemp told the Oakland Tribune. "It feels really good for me to get the win for him. I know he's happy."
Guard Johnnie Bryant led the Dragons in scoring against San Leandro with 17 points.