Felder for the win

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“I’m supposed to be a leader on the floor and get everybody involved,” Kahlil Felder said. ”I have to take care of the ball and make sure the players are in the right spot.”

Matt Saulino & Jake Alsko

Unlike most young and inexperienced players, freshman point guard Kahlil “Kay” Felder of the Oakland University men’s basketball team shoulders a great deal of responsibility, and he’s not afraid of the challenge.

“I’m supposed to be a leader on the floor and get everybody involved,” Felder said. ”I have to take care of the ball and make sure the players are in the right spot.

“Control the offense at all times, and even control the defense. I have to always be in tune with the game.”

At 5-foot-9, he’s not exactly the ideal basketball height, but Felder has proved capable of playing and thriving in such a large role on veteran-laden team.

Felder leads all players in the Horizon League as a distributor, averaging six assists a game. Nationally, he is ranked 15th in assists and the only other freshmen he trails is Marshall’s Kareem Canty.

“I was mainly a scorer in high school, and now I’m coming into this new role where I have to get people involved, it’s been fun,” he said.

Felder hasn’t forgotten how to score, though. He is averaging 9.7 points per game, good for second among all Horizon League freshmen and fourth on the Oakland squad.

However, those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Since Oakland’s first conference matchup, “Kay” has been averaging 13.7 points and 7.1 assists per game. 

“I’m being more aggressive and my confidence is building every day,” Felder said. “And (head coach Greg) Kampe and the other coaches believe in me. They think I’m already one of the best players in this league.”

Felder has been named the Horizon League’s “Freshman of the Week” already five times this year.

“I take it as something that I’m just supposed to be doing,” he said. “I don’t really pay attention to it because I’m just trying to win and make sure my team is getting better every day.

“The individual awards are okay, but I’m kind of a team guy.”

Although Kampe already has the NCAA’s greatest 3-point shooter of all-time in senior guard Travis Bader on his squad, he finds it opportune to put the ball in the hands of the freshman Felder.

The recently played the University of Illinois at Chicago for their homecoming game, which was decided on a buzzer-beater 3-pointer from senior guard Duke Mondy. Kampe trusted Felder enough to make him the first option on the team’s last possession with less than five seconds remaining.

“Option one was getting the ball to Felder and having him get down the court to the basket,” Kampe said. “Well, he was swarmed so we went with option two.”

Option two was Mondy, who put in one of the more electric shots in recent Oakland lore. However, the very next game was provided a similar situation, and this time it was Felder’s turn.

Against Youngstown State University on Jan. 31, Oakland was down one point with less than 10 seconds to go, and Felder had the ball.

He drove down the court in less than five seconds and was fouled under the basket, putting him at the line for two of the biggest free throws of his short career. The diaper dandy did not disappoint.

“To have a freshman be able to knock down those free throws, I mean that says everything about the kid,” Kampe said.

Felder had a big game that day against the Penguins, recording his first ever double-double as a collegiate player. He finished the game with 19 points and career-high 12 assists.

When the unavoidable growing pains occur, Felder is grateful to have players like junior center Corey Petros and Bader around to alleviate the pressure.

“I had a big man in high school, and I had a shooter too, but nobody like Bader who is going to come off screens, it’s a lot different than high school,” Felder said.

Those two upperclassmen won’t be around forever, but it’s safe to say that Kampe has found himself another cornerstone player to build around for several years to come.