The points are huge because they’re helping South Carolina win.
Freshman Rakym Felder stroked three 3-pointers among his 19 points in last week’s victory over Texas A&M, and they filled the void left by an off game from P.J. Dozier.
What’s more noticeable is the enthusiasm. Watching Felder play basketball is a delight, the combination of a fresh face doing well for the only team he ever wanted to play for.
“This is my dream school,” Felder said. “Before (USC coach) Frank (Martin) even got here, I wanted to come here. There was a couple of schools (near Brooklyn that recruited me), but I always wanted to attend here. My mind was set to get here, somehow.”
How’d a New York kid welcome garnet into his heart? After all, it’s been a while since Frank McGuire constructed his Manhattan-to-Midlands pipeline.
Yet Martin renovated it, using his New York connections to schedule games in the Big Apple and to spread the word among the Northern recruiting base. Felder was a mix of the two.
He spent two years in Indian Land, the tiny community nestled on the South Carolina-North Carolina border, 20 minutes south of Charlotte and northwest of Rock Hill. That one season with the Warriors was enough to get him hooked for good on the Gamecocks.
“Well, I wanted to come here for football,” the 5-foot-10 guard sheepishly said, “and that transferred over to basketball.”
Felder’s game blossomed when he moved back to New York, playing for prep powerhouse Lincoln (alma mater of Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and the fictional Jesus Shuttlesworth of “He Got Game,” portrayed by South Carolinian Ray Allen). When Martin contacted him, it was an automatic marriage.
Backing up Dozier and splitting time with Hassani Gravett, Felder quickly became a vital contributor. He was providing valuable minutes, but then he loaded up for an NBA-range 3-pointer – and it went.
Since, there have been quite a few more. Everybody’s glad to see it, although they’re still a little curious.
“It’s funny, because we always say New York people can’t shoot,” senior Duane Notice said. “Right now, Rah can shoot it.”
“Rah, that’s my lil’ man,” grinned Justin McKie. “He’s been helping us out, especially the last game, tremendously. He gets frustrated at times, so it’s really good to see the way he played last game to keep his confidence going.”
Martin pointed out Felder’s maturity was accelerated from being around the team’s veterans. On the rare occasion of downtime, Felder wasn’t playing Xbox. He saw what Notice, Dozier, McKie and Sindarius Thornwell were doing, which was heading to the gym to shoot.
“Rah’s a distributor. Rah’s a guy that’s trying to get the ball to other guys,” Martin said. “When you go watch him play high school games, shooting the 3’s the last thing he ever did. But to be able to distribute, you have to understand the team’s offensive concepts, you have to know where guys are at. He’s so much better now than he was a month ago, it’s not even funny.”
Felder’s stretching out the defense, allowing him to find open men or throw a 3 at the rim. He’s devilishly sneaky on the break, too, looking like an NFL fullback toting the rock until he explodes toward the rim.
The headband and ear-to-ear smile have already made him a crowd favorite. He embraces it and tries to give it all back.
They’re who he wanted to play for.
“I just found my rhythm, and my confidence is at an all-time high right now,” he said. “I used to dream of big-time games like these. I’m just excited to be here.”
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SOUTH CAROLINA (12-3, 2-0 SEC) at TENNESSEE (8-7, 1-2)
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 107.5 FM
South Carolina’s probable starters: G P.J. Dozier 6-6 So. (15.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Sr. (18.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg); G Duane Notice 6-2 Sr. (10.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg); F Maik Kotsar 6-10 Fr. (7.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg); F Chris Silva 6-9 So. (9.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg)
Tennessee’s probable starters: G Jordan Bone 6-1 Fr. (6.7 ppg, 0.5 rpg); G Robert Hubbs 6-5 Sr. (14.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg); G Jordan Bowden 6-3 Fr. (8.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg); F Grant Williams 6-5 Fr. (10.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg); F Kyle Alexander 6-10 So. (3.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
Next game: South Carolina hosts Ole Miss at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.