Oakland guard Felder is NBA draft’s little big man

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Oakland point guard Kay Felder is among the point guards the Pistons have worked out before the draft.

At 5-foot-9, Kay Felder has gotten used to being overshadowed by taller basketball players. Even in high school, he didn’t sky over his opposition, but helped Detroit Pershing to three Public School League championships and was named to the All-State Dream Team in his senior season.

He made a name for himself in his three years at Oakland University, rising above the competition by leading the nation in assists (9.3) and finishing fourth in scoring (24.4 points), while earning Horizon League player of the year honors.

But as he’s showing, short can be good — he even shortened that name from Kahlil to Kay.

“My family and friends all call me Kay,” Felder told The Detroit News. “Every time an article came out, they spelled it wrong.”

Whether it’s Kay or Kahlil, Felder will try to make a bigger name for himself in the NBA draft combine, which kicks off Wednesday in Chicago.

That won’t be such a tall order, given what Felder has shown in his collegiate career, but will work to use the combine as a showcase for his talent, showing that playing at a smaller Division I school wasn’t a fluke.

Felder is one of more than 70 invitees to the combine, which will provide him the opportunity to measure up against some of the best point guards and prospects vying to be selected in the draft on June 23.

“This is my NCAA, my big stage. I never went to an NCAA Tournament and I look at this as my real national stage to showcase what I can do,” Felder said. “This is the first step in this process and there’s no pressure.”

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball and I can showcase my talent and (individual team) workouts will come. I don’t necessarily have to be perfect, but in a sense, I do. It’s just an opportunity.”

During the combine, players will be measured and go through a variety of drills, along with some 5-on-5 scrimmages, as well as have an opportunity to sit down with individual teams for interviews.

Teams already have done their homework, from background checks, interviews with college and high school coaches and film study to try to gauge who some of the top prospects will be. For Felder, the projections have him slotted late in the first round or early in the second, but the combine provides another opportunity to improve his draft stock.

“There’s only one question mark about him and that’s can he defend at that level against that kind of size,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. “I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised at what they see. They’re going to interview him and see he’s a great kid.

“Now it’ll be their chance to sit down in a room and talk to him and they’ll see a humble kid that really wants to play in the NBA and is willing to do anything to do that.”

Oakland’s Kay Felder had some of his best games against teams like Michigan State and Virginia.

Measuring up

The obvious concern about Felder will be his size, at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds. While there are times that he could be mistaken for a media member than a top-tier point guard, he doesn’t shy away from that obstacle.

“My height is always going to be my height. I just have to live with it and do what I’ve always been doing, but turn it up to another level,” Felder said. “My plan is to go show that I can right some of the wrongs that have been written on my game: the defensive things and I didn’t do much catch-and-shoot at Oakland.”

Many experts have compared Felder’s game to the Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas, who is also 5-9. Thomas is one of the most improved players in the league this season and continues to show point guards can overcome the issues with height with superb play in other areas.

“The greatest thing that happened for Kay was the Boston Celtics series and the way Isaiah Thomas played in that series,” Kampe said. “He championed the small guard who can score — and that’s what Kay is.”

If there were questions about the level of competition Felder and Oakland faced in the Horizon League, he erased some of the doubt in nonconference games against some of the bigger schools, including a career-best 38 points at Washington, 37 points and nine assists against then-No. 1 Michigan State and 30 points against Virginia.

That’s what Felder might have over some of the other point guards in the draft — he’s an adept scorer and distributor, which would fit well as a backup in the NBA as he tries to make his mark, whether it’s in the footprints of Thomas or creating his own.

“I look at (Thomas) as a big inspiration because if he can do it, why can’t I?” Felder said.

For Felder, it’s a case of finding a niche — and the right team — in order to get the right fit.

But it all starts with the first step, this week at the combine.

“If you’re not a superstar in the NBA, it’s a game of specialties. You’ve got to find the coach or general manager who’s not afraid of a little guy,” Kampe said. “I don’t’ think it’s as big an issue as it was three years ago. Isaiah Thomas and guys like that have paved the path for another little guy to come through.

The right fit

The NBA draft as a whole is something of a crapshoot and if Felder can find the right fit, there’s no telling in which round — or to which team — he might be drafted.

Around the league, finding an effective backup point guard is a challenge for teams — and if Felder can get in the right situation, he could set himself up for an extended NBA career, something he didn’t really imagine when he was at Pershing.

“All my life, I always dreamed about playing basketball professionally. But I was like a small dreamer, though, because I always thought I could go overseas and make some money and come home and get a job,” he said. “Before my sophomore year, that’s when I started to think about the NBA and those two summers really helped me out. Hopefully, I can make my dream come true.”

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

NBA draft combine

What: Measurements, drills and scrimmages between the more than 70 players who have declared for the NBA draft

When: Wednesday through Saturday

Where: Chicago

Local connections: Deyonta Davis and Denzel Valentine (Michigan State), Kay Felder (Oakland), Caris LeVert (Michigan)