Jalek Felton was one of the most entertaining high school players in the country, but now he’s just doing his best to earn playing time. After struggling in his first few games, the first-year guard is finally hitting his stride.
Felton set career highs in points, assists and rebounds in Wednesday night’s game against Western Carolina — in which the Tar Heels ran away with the 104-61 victory.
“The coaches do a great job at reminding the younger guys that whenever you take the court, that’s your audition,” Joel Berry II said.
You could say that Felton passed his audition.
He capped off a solid first half with the ball in his hands. With eight seconds remaining in the half, he caught the ball near the left sideline and steadily worked up the court. He used a slick behind-the-back move and pull-up from the free throw line to drill an easy shot with two seconds to spare. It’s this level of poise that you need in big-time scenarios.
“When I hit my first two shots, got an assist and it just felt like everything was rolling,” Felton said.
Felton also had an extremely well-rounded game. He finished 15 points, five assists and three rebounds. Time and time again he made good passes to find wide open shooters or big men under the basket.
In the second half, the court was his. Just past the 10-minute mark, Felton had an instance where he showed off his handles, slashed into the lane with a spin move and dumped the ball off to Brandon Huffman for a slam. There was little that Felton didn’t do in this game.
He is producing at the perfect time, as well. Seventh Woods, who has been diagnosed with a stress fracture in his foot, has sat out the last three games and will be unavailable for a while.
Berry said he’s seen pieces of Felton’s game grow recently.
“Being more vocal, and just being a leader out there on the court,” he said. “I think his development is going pretty good, and we’re going to need it when … we get into ACC play.”
First-year big man Garrison Brooks said that Felton offers another dynamic to this team.
“Joel is more of scorer while Jalek tries to get everyone involved no matter what,” Brooks said.
“He’s just been scraping the surface for how he’s going to play for us.”
Along with his passing, Felton’s shot has started to fall the last few games. He was 4-of-4 from beyond the arc on Wednesday, which added to a season-high 16 threes for the Tar Heels. That tied the record for threes for any Tar Heel team under head coach Roy Williams.
"I think I’m starting to pick up on things a little faster now,” Felton said. “Just taking it one practice, one game at a time, and starting to see a little progress and getting my confidence back to where I like it.”
Shooting was the story tonight for the Heels but man oh man was this delicious from Jalek Felton to Brandon Huffman pic.twitter.com/0To5CEvHI8
Confidence, Felton admits, was an issue earlier in the year. Williams is notoriously tough on some select players. Very few forget the relationship Williams had with 2016 All-American Brice Johnson, and it seems that Felton is his next project.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating,” Felton said. “It makes me almost want to cry sometimes. But you just gotta look at it as he’s just trying to coach you and make you better.”
Felton said that his skin has thickened and appreciates what Williams has done.
“You have to look at all the guys he has pushed. All the point guards he’s had, and look how successful they’ve been.”
These names include Ty Lawson, Marcus Paige, Kendall Marshall and even Raymond Felton, Jalek’s uncle.
And Felton knows that that's decent company to be in.