The 6-foot-1 guard out of the legendary Abraham Lincoln High School has been through much more than your average teenage basketball standout.
On April 30, Felder announced his official signing to the University of South Carolina, a college he refers to as his dream school in a state where Felder still has family waiting for his eventual return.
“When I was little I used to live in South Carolina for seventh grade, eighth grade and ninth grade,” Felder said of his ties to The Palmetto State. “Growing up and being down there just helped me develop as a person.”
His big senior campaign, which included averaging 16 points and five assists per game in PSAL play, obviously played a huge part in Felder being Division-I bound, the goal of many top-tier high school athletes.
What played a bigger role in getting him to this point was Felder’s resiliency, which resembles the true embodiment of what we expect a true New York City guard to be about.
One year ago after a day of playing basketball in the park, Felder was shot in the right leg by a moving vehicle while waiting alone at a bus stop. Over one year later, Felder still says he has no knowledge of who fired the bullet, and that he continues to think about the legitimately life-changing incident every single day.
“It happened on May fourth of last year – a car just drove by shooting,” he said while reflecting on the incident. “I have no idea who shot me. I was just coming from playing basketball – wrong place, wrong time, I don’t know, it was just tragic, crazy, mind blowing.
“I think about it every day because I still feel it,” he added. “My nerves haven’t come back in my leg yet. It just brings back memories every day because I get a tingling pain in my leg, like if I touch my right leg I could feel it.”
There aren’t much more startling experiences that would convince you to reassess yourself than having a bullet pierce your leg after playing basketball one summer. Felder returned to the courts just two short weeks later with a renewed sense of purpose to moving forward with his young life.
“At the time I was like, ‘alright, we’ve just got to buckle down, finish school, be on the right track, don’t go out too much, stay behind the scenes, and not be the young wild child I am just being outside for no reason,” Felder recalled with a chuckle. “It helped me stay under the radar, work on my craft and get my grades right. It actually brought to my attention what I really want to do with my future.”
With an upbringing that included coming home to a house with barely no food, sharing a bed with his big brother, who he described as a father figure, and a mother working two jobs with no father in the picture, Felder says that May 4th date undoubtedly served as a much-needed eye-opener for the Lincoln standout.
“You only have like one chance to live and you want to make the best of it,” he said. “All the comments I was getting after the situation happened, all the positive comments, the negative comments, it just helped me realized ‘alright, it’s go time.’”
The well-traveled Felder played in three different high schools, including a year at Indian Land High in South Carolina. Bouncing from school to school can be a stressful adjustment for any teenager to make on multiple different occasions, especially when moving over 600 miles away.
“It’s just overwhelming,” he said. “Adapting to environments, different cultures, different students, different teachers, just adapting.”
The flashy passing combo guard was originally drawn into the sport as a child by his brother Davontay Grace, who was one of the top players in the city while Felder was younger. Grace, a product of Thomas Jefferson High School, was very active in the AAU circuit, which was something Felder wanted to follow.
“I just fell in love with the game when my brother started going on trips and going out of town and stuff, he was never home,” Felder said while discussing his brother’s impact. “I wanted to do those types of things. That was just my way of staying out of trouble from my neighborhood, growing up in Brooklyn it’s easier to get influenced by the wrong things, I just used basketball.”
This past season, Felder was a leader on a Lincoln squad that earned a Brooklyn Borough championship, a top-seed in the PSAL “AA” city playoff tournament, and a city championship appearance. While Felder was unavailable at the end of the season, he was still able to make his presence felt doing what he could to assist the Railsplitters en route to a near “AA” title.
“I definitely feel like we came up short, but it was a good year,” said the SEC-bound guard. “We had a lot of young kids, it was a great experience for them, great experience for me to even be at Madison Square Garden, to help my team get to the city championship.
“Just on the bench giving them that energy even though I couldn’t play,” he added. “The season was great, I’ll say that. We overcame a lot of adversity.”
At South Carolina, Felder will join a program that capped off 25-9 (11-7 SEC) season by making it to the second round of the NIT before getting eliminated against Georgia Tech. This was the Gamecocks first post-season appearance in Martin’s four years at the helm.
“Coach Frank Martin is just the realist, he’s actually one of the first college coaches to believe in me,” Felder said of his soon-to-be new head coach. “I want to play for someone who’ll keep it real, help me grow on and off the court, so I feel like he’s the person I needed to be with for the next four years. My family is supportive, the fans out there are supportive. My mom, I just wanted to do something great for her.
“I just want to thank coach (Dwayne ‘Tiny’) Morton, all of the Lincoln staff, James Barrett, the people that’s in my circle for making this even possible,” Felder added. “They’ve helped me with the lessons that they gave me throughout the tough years.”
Follow Bryan Fonseca on Twitter at @BryanFonsecaNY.