CHICAGO — When Jalek Felton was a young basketball player, he would color his socks to make sure he would always have something Carolina Blue to wear.
Is it any surprise the guard committed to North Carolina more than two years ago and never wavered despite an academic scandal?
“It was all the great players who went to UNC,” said Felton, ranked as the nation’s No. 1 combo guard and No. 26 overall by the 247Sports Composite. “I want to win a national championship there. The family atmosphere I got from my first unofficial visit there. Since I was, I think, 5, I’ve been wearing North Carolina blue.”
Part of that might have been the influence of his uncle Raymond Felton, who a national title with the Tar Heels. Felton has played for his uncle’s Team Felton AAU team on the Under Armour circuit during the summers.
During the high school season, though, Felton now has a new team. He transferred to Gray Collegiate (Columbia, S.C.) from Mullins.
Ranked No. 15 in this week’s Super 25, Gray opened its season with a 61-34 loss to Sunrise Academy (Wichita, Kan.) on Saturday in the Chicago Elite Classic at the UIC Pavilion. Gray was without 6-10 junior center Mike Marsh, a transfer from Hammond, who is sidelined with a knee injury.
Coach Dion Bethea said Felton’s leadership will fill a void after so many seniors graduated.
“Him giving up his senior year to play with a bunch of sophomores and a 14-year-old freshman, that says a lot about his character,” Bethea said. “He wanted to come here and play and help us continue the tradition.”
Gray’s loss to Sunrise was a wake-up call for the young team, as it heads home to practice and come together. Gray faces Oceanside Academy (Mt. Pleasant, S.C.) on Tuesday.
“It’s a new team, so I’m still getting used to everyone. This is a great team, and a great chance to see where we’re at,” Felton said. “We have a lot of work to do to catch up to everyone. There’s no excuse for us to come out and play like that.”
As the point guard, he knows his job is to lead his younger teammates.
“I feel like the point guard is expected to lead at all times, make sure everyone’s in the right place at the right time. The point guard’s the center of attention on the floor,” Felton said.
He’s starting to prepare for his role at North Carolina. After Felton signed during the early period, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said, He’s the kind of young man who can come in and really help us do some things because he’s a complete offensive player. We think he’s going to be a big-time addition to our program.”
Felton said he did get some words of wisdom from Uncle Raymond throughout the recruitment process.
“He said enjoy it, and whenever you’re ready to make your decision, make it. I know I committed really early, but I just didn’t want to waste anyone’s time. I know I wanted to go there in my heart,” he said.
Felton said his uncle did not push him toward North Carolina. He only had one edict for his nephew’s college decision: “No Duke.”