Jalek Felton brings family name back to S.C. hardwood

jnowak@thesunnews.comDecember 28, 2013 

JANET BLACKMON MORGAN — jblackmon@thesunnews.com Buy Photo

— The name Felton strikes a chord when it comes to basketball in the Carolinas, but 15-year-old Jalek says it’s not his NBA uncle, Raymond, that drove him to play basketball – it just came naturally.

When it comes to choosing his position of point guard, the Mullins freshman gives the 29-year-old New York Knicks guard more credit.

“Basketball, you might not believe it, but it’s something I didn’t really work on,” Felton said, noting that he and his uncle are very close, speaking often. “When I was young it was a blessing, it just came to me. Passed down from my grandfather to [Raymond], then it just hit me. Once I got older, yeah, he started to push me a little bit, make me a better player.”

However, the swath Jalek’s uncle made in the Carolinas – leading Latta High School to back-to-back state titles in 2001 and 2002, and then the Tar Heels to a national championship before going on to find NBA success – has made the younger Felton’s path difficult at times. Jalek said he was booed in his first trip to face Latta this year, a reaction he said gave him fuel.

“It was pretty cool – it motivated me a little bit,” the 6-foot-4 Felton said, grinning as he remembered his 32-point performance that night. “It’s kind of tough a little bit, because it’s like I’ve got a target on my back and they’re coming to get me from the jump.”

The reaction to his last name is something the Mullins freshman said he’s gotten used to. The tall and wiry point guard also played significant time as an eighth-grader last season, averaging 14.5 points and 4.3 assists. But Felton said he has learned from the relationship with his uncle, and hopes to follow in his footsteps someday. While it’ll be a while before the player regarded as one of the top prospects in the 2017 class ships out for college, Felton said his “dream school” is the University of North Carolina.

“It’s a big shoe to fill, but I think I can handle it … [Raymond] won a national championship, ACC tournament; he won all that,” Felton said. “Just going to the gym and looking at the banners he put up, just hoping one day I can do the same and have mine next to his.”

But with so much high school time still in front of him, and possibly some more height as well, the guard is focused on winning now – a goal that he brought to the Beach Ball Classic at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. The Mullins Auctioneers found that road difficult, though, with losses to Ohio power Franklin and star senior Luke Kennard, and then a loss in the consolation bracket to Norcross (Ga.).

With one final game in the consolation bracket upcoming against Socastee on Tuesday, Felton has averaged 14 points and five assists while facilitating for fellow guard Alex Brown, who’s put up 57 points in the two games.

Coach Mark Gerald said he and the Auctioneers squad have all had to make adjustments to accommodate the highly athletic and still learning guard, but he doesn’t offer the budding superstar any special treatment.

“He works a bit more than most of the other players because he wants to,” Gerald said, noting that he also worked with Felton’s uncle when he was in school. “We coach him the same and don’t treat him any differently; the other kids are trying to get to the same level that he’s at.”

Brown, the 6-foot-4 senior leader of the Auctioneers’ squad, is another player looking to play at the college level, and the self-proclaimed “high flyer” said he and Jalek work well together and have a good relationship.

The two can often be found on their own during practices, working on shooting drills and putting on dunk displays.

“Everybody’s noticing him this year,” said Brown, who’s mulling his own offers from schools like East Carolina and Tennessee-Martin. “I’m just trying to get him used to it. … It’s been going great, actually. He’s learned some new stuff, I’ve learned something from him.”

Some of that learning experience will need to be in the area of consistency, which is where Jalek has the most room to grow, said Gerald.

“He’s had some monster games and I think he can do that every game,” Gerald said, noting that Brown is the perfect player to impart that lesson. “[Brown] doesn’t get upset. … He just keeps going at it. I can always relate that to Jalek.”

But all that may be splitting hairs when talking about a freshman point guard with well over three years remaining in his high school career.

Gerald noted that Felton’s point guard skills are already above average – his family ties possibly helping in that regard – and his superior height will set him apart at the next level and perhaps beyond.

“As he’s growing he’s keeping his point guard skills. Colleges – that’s what they’re looking for,” Gerald said. “He works extremely hard in the offseason. I think his shooting has improved greatly since he’s been here. At 6-4, he can do everything on the court. He can rebound, he can pass, he can shoot, he can defend every player on the other team, and I think that’s his biggest asset right now.”

With hopes for state titles this year and beyond, Felton’s dreams keep going. While he won’t rule out a switch to shooting guard in the future – especially if he shoots up a few more inches – he’d like to have more in common with his uncle than just being a high school and possibly a college star.

Harkening back to the favorite of the NBA games he’s been to, he recounted his uncle sinking a game-winning buzzer-beater against the Toronto Raptors last year for the Knicks.

“I was going to take his little baby to the bathroom and I just happened to look back. It was the last five seconds after a timeout and they were down one. And he just came down, shot it, hit the back of the iron, came down and started rolling,” he said. “Then it went in.”

It didn’t take long for Felton to chime in on whether that might be him taking that shot someday.

“I sure hope it is,” he said.

Contact JEFF NOWAK at 444-1767.

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