Raymond Felton Report
LATTA (S.C.) - Every Tuesday and Friday night for the past 2 ½ months, the town's population of 1,565 swells with visitors at this hamlet just off of I-95 and US 301, in South Carolina near Dillon. Not many people know exactly where Latta is, but adoring fans from the surrounding area, doting college coaches and amazed journalists are flocking to see something as hot as nearby Myrtle Beach in August, and that is Raymond Felton, Jr., junior point guard of Latta High School.
Though he is highly touted as a future star playmaker for one of the nation's elite basketball programs, Raymond talks humbly and determinedly about his future. "I'd like to earn my position. I don't want anything to be given to me…some people say they guarantee me a starting position…I like that, of course, starting for a Division I school, but I'd like to work for my position. I'd like to go there and earn my spot. That's the way I am."
Raymond, Jr. comes by his work ethic honestly. It has been forged in a community that exudes an aura of honest, hard work--a town among worn and worked tobacco fields and with four factories, with names like Orange Blossom Trailers Ltd., Carolina East Fork Lift, Smurfit-Stone Paper, and the Signode Corporation that provide a living for its citizens.
When asked about attending his son's games, his father, Raymond Felton, Sr. says, "I look at his game and then leave and go to work, since I won't see him until the next evening." Mr. Felton, father of one of the most coveted high school junior point guards in the United States, works third shift at one of those factories but never misses a game. Quite a good ball player himself, he and Raymond enjoy a close relationship and he has been a major part of Raymond's development as a player.
Raymond's rise to national prominence has been meteoric. Before the summer of 2000, not many people outside of Latta High School, its opponents in South Carolina (1A) basketball, and the Felton family knew about him. But then came Raymond's breakout summer at numerous tournaments in AAU play and at camps. There was also the recognition by UNC's head coach Matt Doherty of something very special in this basketball player.
His coach at Latta High School, Stephen Smith, says "The first day he [Coach Doherty] saw him get a steal and then take it to the hole and finish it with a dunk. Then he saw him get another steal and take it to the hole and finish it with a dunk. Then he saw him take it inside and drive on some 6'11" guy, and finish it with his left hand. Then he saw him hit a three."
Raymond himself says, "I went out to Vegas and to California to the adidas tournament. And I averaged 30 points while I was [out] there. I just played my game. I hit my threes. Drove to the basket. Dished. I drove on big 7-footers, 6'11" guys. I did all kinds of things. I guess that impressed the coaches."
Coach Smith states further, "Coach Doherty said he was even looking at this one player but saw Raymond do some things and didn't know who he was, didn't know he existed, and he kept looking at him. He had to find out who he was. He quit looking at the one guy [and] started concentrating on Raymond."
Comparisons have been made of Raymond's play, size (6'1", 185 pounds) and abilities to Baron Davis of the Charlotte Hornets. However, Raymond says, "I try to be myself" when asked whom it is he patterns his game after. "I can always improve everywhere. I'd love to see myself improve everywhere-all parts of my game," he says.
Offensively, Felton has been described as "fearless" by his coach, willing to take it inside, "even among the trees," and penetrate defenses. He is a very good shooter with great range, including the three. A multi-faceted offensive threat, he spots up and takes the perimeter shot, forcing defenses to always keep track of him and opening up his teammates for scoring. He plays selflessly and will penetrate and dish quite often as is evidenced by his 5.9 assists/game. Quite a few of his points come from offensive rebounds and putbacks.
Although he is a combo guard and can play the "1" or the "2"; with his height, he most likely will play the "1" in college ball. He'll probably add a bit more height and round out to 6'2".
Felton loves to play defense. Possessing excellent foot speed, he anticipates steals well, averaging over 5 per game. His defense sets the stage for his offense as he averages 4-5 dunks a game in transition as well as on drives.
Coach Smith speaks of a special quality that stands out about his star junior: Raymond is "mentally tough…when the game is on the line, when you've got the tough competition…that's when he rises to another level…his greatest strength is his lack of fear…when he steps on the court, he's ready to play … I don't know how much better a 16-year-old kid can be than Raymond."
Some interesting notes about Felton include: a 37" vertical, 4.6 speed in the 40, size 12 shoes, and benching 225 pounds. He got his first recruiting letter in the eighth grade from Notre Dame. As a freshman starter on the varsity squad, he averaged 16 pts/game. The next year as a sophomore he averaged 25 pts/game.
Felton is a major reason that his Latta High School squad is #1-ranked in South Carolina (1A) ball and also why they have been to the SC state Final Four for the past two years, losing to the eventual champion in the semifinal round.
A member of the Beach Ball Select AAU team out of Myrtle Beach, SC, Felton's rankings among major recruiting experts include:
The Sporting News (link): # 6-ranked junior and second-highest point guard behind Anthony Roberson of Saginaw, MI, although Brick Oettinger says, in their 12/30/00 coverage of the Beach Ball Classic in Prepstars.com: "Felton's as good as any guard in the junior class, including (MI PG) Anthony Roberson."
Jacey Zembal (link) (Credit Zembal and also Clint Jackson (see below) for being among the first to recognize and tout Raymond's potential and eventual stardom among Division I recruits).
Clint Jackson of the HighMajorHoops Newsletter (link) lists Felton at # 8 nationally in a sneak peak of his top 10 Class of 2002.
Prepstars (link) lists Felton #21 in the nation in its winter rankings of the junior class.
Raymond is performing well in the classroom, with a 3.0 average through his junior year. He has taken the SAT and is waiting to find out his scores as of the writing of this article. After receiving the score, Felton will wade through the many schools that have expressed an interest in him. He has current scholarship offers from North Carolina, Clemson, South Carolina, Georgetown, and Georgia.
Raymond's coach has said "Hey, once they [North Carolina] look at you, ‘you're on the map!' So from then on, he's basically been on the map."
And now, a lot of people know exactly where Latta is.
Editor's Note: David Thompson (no, not THE David Thompson) is a UNCbasketball.com correspondent. He has authored several past reports on Tar Heel recruiting targets from Texas and Oklahoma. You can reach David at firstname.lastname@example.org