Sports

Felton has become Bobcats' heart and soul

Raymond Felton is relentless. He doesn't take off games, plays or practices. Eventually he wears you down.

Felton, 25, wore defenses down last season. New coach Larry Brown put him in position to when he made Felton his full-time starting point guard. For the first time in four seasons as a professional, Felton no longer had to share.

To celebrate, Brown screamed at him. Both men played the position at North Carolina, and Brown is notoriously tough on people who play his position. Brown is relentless, too.

Felton tuned out the volume and listened to the lyrics. He says he learned that as a Tar Heel.

Who yells more, Brown or North Carolina coach Roy Williams?

"Man," Felton says. He pauses for a second, for three seconds, for five.

"Even," he says.

Felton averaged 14.2 points, 6.7 assists and 3.8 rebounds last season. But after January he averaged 15.4 points, 7.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds.

I was dumbfounded by his improvement. Also, I was dumb. You see, until today I don't think I have ever written a positive column about Felton.

I didn't like his game. When a teammate ran around a pick and was in rhythm and ready for the ball, I thought Felton slipped it to him a half-step late. Felton wasn't smooth. He didn't run an offense the way elite point guards do.

I wasn't a fan. But I'd sit there the latter part of last season and think, this guy plays defense. He blocked 30 shots in 2008-09, and he's only 6-1. If he were 7-1, 30 blocks would be, like, 500.

He goes to the basket no matter who is there. He's willing to miss the shot that will win or lose the game. He's unwilling to miss games, however. He's missed only seven in four seasons.

Talented rookie point guard D.J. Augustin joined the Bobcats last season. There's an ease to Augustin's game that Felton will never have. How did Felton respond to the new threat, the new lottery pick, the new competition? Instead of being territorial, he became a teacher. Valuable advice included: listen to the coach's words, not the volume at which they're SHOUTED.

Felton refuses to criticize teammates. When post-game blame was assessed, he raised both hands.

"He's as good a teammate as I've ever coached," Brown says.

Brown began coaching point guards at about the time Bob Cousy broke in for the Boston Celtics. So calling Felton "as good a teammate" as he's coached is remarkable praise.

What is a good teammate?

"He's loyal," says Brown. "He does every drill as hard as he can. If he's playing, he's trying to win. If he's not, he's cheering for everybody."

There are point guards who are more elegant. They glide across the court as if they're wearing a tux. Felton plays as if he's wearing work boots and a tool belt.

"This is my team and I want to help everybody," says Felton.

When did the Bobcats become your team?

"Last year," he says. "I'm the point guard and the leader. So I took that role. And I'm going to keep it."

He'll keep it only if the Bobcats keep him. He and the team were unable to agree upon a contract, and he is tethered to Charlotte only for this season.

"I'm happy to be here another year," says Felton. "I'm not worried."

Fans ought to be.

A guy I know saw Felton in a restaurant this summer. The man's son is a huge basketball fan and Felton was at the next table. 'Dad, can I go over and ask for his autograph, please, please, dad, please?'

Felton offered the kid a signature and invited him to sit down. When the kid arrived, Felton was Mr. Felton. By the time he left, Felton had become R-Dog, R or Ray.

Felton's kindness won't win games. But it will win fans. For the Bobcats, that, too, is a victory.

  Comments