The national schedule, intense daily competition and rigorous academic workload Jalek Felton sought in a new school, it turns out, wasn’t far from home.
Felton, a class of 2017 UNC commitment, announced on Friday that he’ll spend his senior season at West Columbia (S.C.) Gray Collegiate Academy.
Gray Academy, coached by Dion Bethea, is only two hours from Felton’s hometown of Mullins.
Bethea was UNC All-American Brice Johnson’s AAU coach.
“Dion knows my family and we know each other very well, it’s just keeping it in the family,” Felton said. “Plus it’s better players and better competition.”
Bethea added: “It’s a relationship that has been there since he was younger. Jalek played for my uncle (the late Mark Gerald) at Mullins. We felt like he needed that same type of family environment that my uncle used to have when he coached. My uncle pushed him, too, and didn’t let him settle. We have a lot of discipline here with our guys. It felt like, with him being here, it could be a great opportunity from a basketball and academic standpoint.”
Last season, Gray Academy finished with a 20-3 record. Bethea expects Felton to lead a team that features a talented roster of underclassmen, including sophomores Khalil Robinson and Juwan Gary.
“I’ve already played with some of the guys and they play a lot harder,” Felton explained. “I guess they want to win as bad as me and they have the talent to go along with it. With the way Coach Bethea coaches and these pieces around us, I think it’s going to be a beautiful thing.”
A talent of Felton’s caliber could’ve played at almost any prep program in the country. Legacy, however, helped shape his final decision.
“I told him, ‘Look, what will be your legacy?’” said Bethea. “'You look at your uncle (Raymond Felton), he led Latta to back-to-back state championships. Sure, you can leave the state, but why not come here, play with other great players and finish your career cutting down the nets at the Colonial Center?’”
In his final season at Mullins, Felton scored 25 points or more 14 times, recorded two triple doubles and set a Beach Ball Classic single-game record with 55 points on Dec. 30.