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Early lessons benefit Phelps

Sickles' Renea Phelps led the Gryphons to a 25-2 record with toughness and almost 19 points per game.

Playing against some of the best girls basketball players in the state was not so tough for Sickles senior Renea Phelps this season.

Since the seventh grade, she has played against tough competition, starting with her older brother Anthony. Most of the games against the guys were pickup games in the park, and the boys never cut her any slack, Phelps said.

Those games made her tough, and that toughness showed during her four years with the Gryphons.

The 6-foot forward/shooting guard guided Sickles to its best season: advancing to the regional playoffs and finishing 25-2.

She was a major factor in helping the Gryphons capture the Leto Holiday Classic and the Western Conference championship this season, along with two consecutive district titles.

She became the first Sickles player to score more than 1,000 career points, ending with 1,497. She hit 48 percent of her shots from the field and 65 percent from the free-throw line.

This season, she averaged 19.4 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.9 steals per game, good enough to be named the Times Hillsborough County Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

"There were a lot of good players in our county this season, so being selected Player of the Year is quite an honor," Phelps said. "I feel like this was not just because I happened to have a good season, but because my team had a good season and I represent them. I am happy for my team and for coach (Jackie) Metroka. She works so hard for us."

Phelps didn't play basketball in school prior to her freshman season at Sickles. She had only played in pickup games with her brother and the guys.

"Playing with boys made me stronger, quicker and a lot tougher on the court," Phelps said. "Even now after school, I pick up a basketball and head for the park. I am playing (Amateur Athletic Union) ball right now for ages 18-and-under. My high school career is over, but I have college ahead and I still haven't decided where I want to play yet."

So far, the University of Tampa and Jacksonville University top her list, partly because she doesn't want to leave the state. But other options are available, and more might be on the way.

Phelps says her most memorable game was during her sophomore season, when Metroka became coach.

"I don't remember the score, but we upset Armwood by three points for coach Metroka's first win," she said. "The season before, it seems like everybody beat us up. Then we won that first game for Coach and we were more happy for her than for ourselves. I will miss her when I go away to college."

After the team's poor finish her freshman season, the Gryphons seemed to come together and improve a little each year.

Anthony Phelps was part of the reason. He made his sister shoot 100 free throws every day and pushed her hard in games with the boys.

"Renea just keeps getting better and college is still ahead," Metroka said. "Where ever she decides to go, she will help the program."