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Felder: 'One of the best days of my life, period'

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Kyle Felder was taken 54th overall by the Atlanta Hawks.

Detroit — On the biggest day of his life, Kay Felder sure didn't seem to be sweating it.

Mom, however? She was a nervous wreck.

"I'll be happy when it's over," said a smiling Tiffany Williams, dressed to the nines in a black dress and elegant pearls.

"I never dreamed of this day."

Felder, the Oakland University superstar guard, started his Thursday with breakfast with his godson, lounged around the home with some more of his mammoth family, then did a little wardrobe shopping, all before making his way to Ultra Lounge in downtown, where he celebrated with a guest list that ballooned from 100, to 125, to 150, before it finally was capped at 180.

And the crowd, which also included Kay's father, Khalil Felder, coach Greg Kampe, a bundle of Golden Grizzlies teammates, and former assistant coach Saddi Washington, absolutely erupted when Felder was taken in the second round of the NBA draft, 54th overall, by the Atlanta Hawks, who then sold his rights to the reigning-champion Cleveland Cavaliers for $2.4 million.

"This is Kay's day," Kampe said. "A dream come true. We all had that dream in life — anybody that ever picked up a basketball."

Felder, a standout at Detroit Pershing when Washington, Kampe's long-time, right-hand man who's now at Michigan, lured him to play in Rochester, became the second Oakland player ever drafted, after Keith Benson was selected 48th overall by the Atlanta Hawks in 2011.

If he plays for the Cavaliers, he'll be the third Oakland player to play in the NBA. And he should get a better shot than most late second-round picks, given the financial commitment Cleveland already has made on him.

"One of the best days of my life, period," said Felder, noting he didn't bother ahead of time to read the scouting reports or mock drafts or even ask his agents who was showing the most interest. "My life has changed."

It's been quite the rise for Felder, 21, who took advantage of Oakland's marquee-heavy schedule to impress fans and scouts all season on national TV, even becoming the focus of high-profile media features by the likes of ESPN and the New York Times.

He finished his junior season fourth in the country in scoring (24.4 points) and first in assists (9.3), after a sophomore season in which he was the only play in the country to average at least 17 points and seven assists.

"I remember him as a young sophomore (at Pershing)," said Washington, adding Felder played in a star-studded AAU circuit — and never got outplayed by the bigger names. "The day that he called myself and Coach Kampe was one of the highlights of my recruiting career.

"I knew that he would be a professional. At what level, I did not know."

Felder said he always had a goal of doing three years at Oakland before exploring his NBA options — and he worked relentlessly on his game with that schedule always front and center in his mind. That said, it still was a surprise to many when, shortly after this past season, he declared for the NBA draft, and an even bigger surprise when he quickly hired an agent, Brandon Grier.

Felder, dressed Thursday in a crisp, purple shirt — ironed by Mom — and polka-dot suspenders, socks and a bow tie (they came in a set), never doubted himself, even when others raised an eyebrow at the time.

Then it was the NBA teams and scouts that were raising eyebrows — and dropping jaws — at the combine in May, when Felder, all 5-foot-9 of him, posted the second-highest vertical in the combine's history, at 44 inches.

"We always thought he would go overseas," said Williams, "because he was so small."

But he defied the odds — and now he will have to again. As a second-round pick, he might not get a guaranteed contract.

There was a buzz at Ultra Lounge late in the first round, with the San Antonio Spurs picking 29th, but they went with another guard, Dejounte Murray, of Washington, which Oakland beat on the road this season, 97-83 — with Felder scoring 38, to Murray's 16. There was a groan among the crowd of friends as the pick was announced.

No matter, said Kampe, who said the Cavaliers told him recently they considered him a first-round talent. The Cavs didn't have a first-round pick.

"Cleveland told him he IS tall enough," Kampe said, after getting a big, running hug from Felder's Mom, who had spent much of the three-and-a-half-hour draft pacing. "It's just a great situation. You can't beat it."

Felder's departue leaves a big void at Oakland, though Kampe has moved quickly and impressively, landing junior-college transfer Stevie Clark to run the point in 2016-17, and perhaps former Illinois star Kendrick Nunn the following year, after he sits out the coming season due to NCAA transfer regulations. Nunn could arrive at Oakland as early as next week.

tpaul@detroitnews.com
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