USA Q&A: Jalek Felton

Inside Carolina sat down with Jalek Felton this weekend in Colorado Springs as the Class of 2017 UNC commitment was preparing to represent USA Basketball at the U18 3x3 World Championships. Felton discussed the upcoming event, as well as UNC's recruiting outlook.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Col. - - Jalek Felton is preparing for the U18 3x3 World Championships at the USA Olympic Complex.

The 3 x 3 tournament takes place each summer beginning in 2010 and the U.S. team has never finished in first place. Each game is played with a 10 minute clock and the first team to 21 (with one point for a field goal inside the arc and two points for a field goal outside of the arc) or the team ahead at the end of the 10 minute period wins the game. The event, which also operates with a 12 second shot clock, takes place in Debrecen, Hungary from June 4-7.

How did this 3-on-3 USA opportunity come about for you?
My mom and (USA Assistant Director) B.J. (Johnson) built a relationship so he emailed my mom asking if I would be interested in playing 3-on-3 basketball and I told him I’m fine with it, I said let’s roll. So I came out here and it’s totally different, I mean totally different than playing 5-on-5. As far as you playing your man one-on-one and defensively you don’t have that help side guy that’s always there for you when you really need him. You don’t have that, so you don’t want to be the guy that they are always calling ‘ah man, you’re in the way, quit getting beat, stop getting beat.’ So you have to pick it up on your own. It’s not necessarily one-on-one, but it’s kind of one-on-one basketball, but you are playing more as a team. Get a feel for your teammates and just really play, just show what you can do.

How has it been playing with teammates Peyton Pritchard and Zach Collins?
It’s great. We have height, we have skill, point guard, you have the dish out, you have shots. It’s perfect, it’s perfect. Then you have P.J. (Washington). When P.J. gets here then it will be even better. You have more physical, more height. More bringing the big guys out and getting to the basket. So many options we have with this team. I don’t think they could’ve picked it any better.

Against New Zealand in the scrimmage, you were matched up a lot with a guy 6-8, 6-9. What do you have to do differently when playing against big guys like that?
You have to be more physical. You can’t let them get sealed. You have to be up-front and get physical with them all day. All day. You can’t let them get straight up. They feel that weakness, then they will go straight for it. There’s no slacking. Someone is constantly coming. You always have to be on your P’s and Q’s all the time.

On offense, you have a lot of space and limited time to get a shot up. Is the 3-on-3 a little more free flowing and suitable to your style of play?
I’m the kind of guy… If I get two or three shots going, or a couple of shots at the basket, I’m going to keep excelling with that until I do something wrong and that’s when I look to my teammates. Since I started playing 3-on-3 my teammates have been there for me. So I really think that will keep going and we can get over to Hungary and keep being successful and keep playing with no injuries and we’ll be fine.

I had never heard of this national 3-on-3 basketball.
Me neither. I’d never heard of it until I got over here.

I saw that since it started in 2010, the USA has never won the gold medal. Is that the main goal for you going over to Hungary?
That’s exactly my goal. I want to be going down as being the first ones to do it. That should be great. We leave Monday morning. 9:15 and we’re out.

Last week you were in New York on the Under Armour Circuit and now you are in Colorado Springs. How do you think your spring has gone so far?
AAU is good. We went 4-0 in New York. We played good. We picked up a few pieces. We picked up Bam from Fayetteville and Kwe from Fayetteville also. We knocked the No. 1 team off. We just came out and competed. Same thing out here. Just getting used to the altitude, really man. That’s a big thing out here. That morning session was tough, but once I got the feel for it I was fine.

I know that your high school recently hired a new coach. What’s your junior year going to be like under Steve Smith?
Yeah, my uncle’s old coach. Just get a state championship. I think he is the guy to do it. He’s won two. He’s been to the Final Four four years in a row. That tells you right there he’s a great coach. He’s won six region titles. You can’t beat that, man. So I hope we bring the same mentality into this season right here and the next season. Keep pushing, keep pushing me and make the best out of me and we’ll be fine.

Have you been able to get back to Chapel Hill for any pick-up games lately?
I’ve been busy every weekend. If I ever get a weekend off, me and my grandfather will go down and play a bit of pick-up. Then if my uncle comes down I’ll get out there, but right now I’m always somewhere.

When you talk to Coach Williams, what does he want you working on?
Getting bigger. Getting a little bigger and getting a little stronger and just staying healthy and continuing to play. That’s really it. It’s a waiting process. Just a waiting process until I get there.

There are high hopes for next year’s UNC team. How do you think they will be?
Same team coming back, right? Same team, they lost J.P., but they bring in Luke Maye. I’m familiar with Luke Maye. Luke Maye played in a tournament down that I’ve seen. We talked and I’ve been to a game. We should be fine.

You are out in Colorado Springs the same time as the 16U tryouts. What players are you trying to recruit from the 2017 and 2018 classes?
I like P.J. (Washington). I’ve built a relationship since we’ve been out here. So I like PJ. … Matt Coleman. I’ve been talking, I’ve been talking.

What about when it comes to the 2016 class? I know you are close with a lot of players UNC is recruiting.
There are a couple of guys that are really considering it. I’m not going to say names, but there are a couple of guys on the verge. Really, mostly guys are concerned with the probation thing. With the school and academics, that’s what most guys are really afraid of and don’t want to commit or sign there and then not be able to play. That’s what it is. If they hurry up and get that over with I think more guys… I mean Carolina is a great school and I don’t see why anyone would turn it down. You see the finalists that come out, every top player has North Carolina in it, but that’s the only thing holding them back.

Have the coaches talked to you about what to expect from the situation?
See, I kind of got the inside. One day I was playing pick-up and Coach Roy pulled us aside and said this would not affect the players coming in and I don’t think the players being recruited know that. So, if they would hurry up and get this over with I think a lot more recruits -- well, I think it would pick-up a lot. Honestly, no one can turn down that Carolina blue. No one. Coach Roy is a great coach, Coach McGrath is a great coach. I mean, you can’t beat it. Fast, fast, we stand (to) lose recruits, but it will get better. Once that goes away, it will get better.

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