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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA MEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP GAME : Phelps Asks His Body for One More Game : College basketball: A hip injury is added to his list of aches, but North Carolina guard is ready for Michigan.

April 05, 1993|DANNY ROBBINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW ORLEANS — Derrick Phelps, North Carolina's junior point guard, was giving reporters at a Sunday news conference a rundown of his injuries this season.

"I guess the elbow injury came at Florida State," he said. "I was hit from behind. Then I got a back injury in practice. It really hurt my balance. I couldn't bend down to play defense.

"And this hip injury, this last thing that happened, it doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would. But it is very sore."

Pause.

Voice from the back of the room: "You forgot the tailbone."

Phelps, laughing: "Oh, yeah. That's the most important one, the tailbone injury against Virginia in the (Atlantic Coast Conference) tournament."

North Carolina's quest for the national championship could hinge on how well Phelps recovers from his latest scrape, the hip injury he suffered Saturday in the semifinals against Kansas.

Phelps suffered a bruised left hip when he fell to the Superdome floor on a drive seven minutes into the second half. He finished the game, but with a noticeable limp.

At the direction of North Carolina trainers, Phelps kept ice on the injury all Saturday night. On Sunday, he described himself as sore, but ready to play tonight against Michigan.

"Right now, I feel pretty good about (the injury)," he said, "and I know I'm definitely going to be playing (against Michigan)."

Phelps' value to the Tar Heels usually can't be measured in his scoring, which is only 8.3 points per game. His job is to distribute the ball--he had 190 assists this season, and only nine turnovers in five NCAA tournament games--and be a stopper on defense.

Michigan guard Jimmy King calls the 6-foot-3 Phelps one of the top four guards in the country.

"He's probably the best rebounding guard," said King, who probably will be defending against Phelps tonight. "He runs the team--just a good floor leader. I feel like, if I can take him away (from the flow of the game), it will be hard for North Carolina to get to the comfort level they've been at all year long. Derrick makes sure everything runs smoothly, and I'm going to try to disrupt that."

In many ways, Phelps is the classic point guard, as defined by North Carolina Coach Dean Smith.

"(Phelps) gets the job done no matter what," King said. "His style is perfect for North Carolina. Traditionally, I think Dean Smith has told (point guards), 'Just be fundamentally sound. You don't have to be flashy. Get the job done.' Derrick does that. I definitely think he's underrated."

Phelps, who grew up in East Elmhurst, N.Y., came to North Carolina as part of the school's 1990 recruiting class, at the time considered one of the best ever. Two other Tar Heel starters, center Eric Montross and forward Brian Reese, were members of that class.

North Carolina's Class of '94 did not experience the sudden success of Michigan's Class of '95, but Phelps has no regrets.

"We were highly recruited," he said, "but the point wasn't to come in as starters. We came in as role players and learned what we had to do (in Smith's system).

"Now that we're juniors, we know what to do. We're more experienced, and I think we're playing at the level we had coming out of high school--like Eric as a big man and me as a defensive player."

Phelps' defensive assignment tonight should be challenging--Michigan's 6-8 Jalen Rose.

As for Phelps' hip injury, it should be noted that, two weeks after suffering the bruised tailbone, he held Cincinnati's Nick Van Exel to one-for-10 shooting during the second half of the East Regional final.

As Phelps put it Sunday: "I'm used to having something sore on my body."

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