by Jake Fischer / @JakeLFischer
When Carrick Felix signed his letter of intent to join Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils, it wasn’t from his high school gymnasium nor broadcast on national television. In fact, it wasn’t until two years after Felix graduated high school that the now 6-6, 203-pound 2013 NBA Draft prospect even suited up for a Division I program.
Unable to earn the academic eligibility necessary to play Division I basketball out of high school, Felix spent his first two years of college at the College of Southern Idaho improving his transcript. But even on the JuCo circuit, Felix couldn’t catch a break. Just several games into his freshman ’08-09 season at Southern Idaho, Felix found himself applying for a medical redshirt. He broke his wrist a few games into his rookie campaign and needed to retain as many years of eligibility for DI as possible.
Then, as his wrist began to heal, Felix’s basketball career’s prospects also began to turn around. During his second year at CSI, now considered a redshirt freshman, Felix was joined by fellow 2013 Draft Class member and former Baylor Bear, Pierre Jackson. That season would be the first in which Felix would begin improving with each year and that’s ultimately when Coach K gave him a call.
But a slight controversy stopped Felix and Durham, NC’s marriage before it even began. Duke released Felix from its recruiting class in May 2010, though it still remains unclear exactly why. Three years ago, Duke’s coaching staff and Southern Idaho head coach Steve Gosar refuted the notion that Felix’s academics were the reason. But today, Felix says otherwise.
“Some stuff happened with a credit with one of my math classes and I ended up going to Arizona State,” Felix says of the situation.
Looking back, the now-former Sun Devil reflects upon his college career in a positive light. “ASU allowed me to grow as a player and I definitely got the best out of all of it. Quite frankly, I call it home. I’m very happy I went there. It was the best place for me.”
Felix ultimately chose Arizona State over a number of schools (reportedly 30-plus) that had interest in the rising sophomore. Among the list were UCLA, Washington State, San Diego State, UNLV, Boise State, Baylor, Villanova, Kansas State, Butler, Michigan State and many, many others. He says a lot factored into his decision to remain in the desert.
“It wasn’t just because it was close to my hometown; it was because the program has a great culture,” Felix, a native of Goodyear, AZ, says. “The previous year before I went there, James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph were both there and I liked what the coaching staff’s philosophy was. It was definitely fun being at home and being able to play in front of my family. But it was just the school itself.”
With the program’s history of dynamic players and an impressive coaching staff loaded with NBA experience, it’s hard to blame Felix for that mentality. Today, Eric Musselman, a former head coach of the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings, believes Felix truly thrived playing in the ASU program and enjoyed watching him work in practice.
“No one will outwork him; he’s an unbelievable practice player,” Musselman, who joined the ASU staff in August 2012, told us. “He has the attitude to want to get better every day and will also greatly appreciate just having the opportunity to play in the NBA. Carrick’s the type of kid that you can play him none or a lot and is going to be ready when called upon.”
Musselman joined the Sun Devils just before Felix’s senior season in the Pac-12, a year that was the result of Felix’s tremendous progress at ASU. He improved with each season and added another element to his game before each fall. During his senior year of ’12-13, Felix was able to up his nightly junior year averages from 10.5 points and 4.0 rebounds in 32.9 minutes per game to 14.6 points and 8.1 rebounds in 35.3 minutes per game.
“I was always working on my game in the gym and I got the opportunity my second year to go out there and play some major minutes,” Felix says. “I think Coach just trusted in me a little bit more and I just waited for my time and continued to work. I knew when my time would come I would be ready. I’m all about just playing hard.”
He also views increasing his rebounding by four boards a game as a major accomplishment.
“I definitely changed my mindset because I realized how athletic I am and how much bigger I was than a lot of guys at my position,” Felix explained. “I’ve always been relentless to the ball. But it was my senior season, so I just made sure that wherever the ball was, I was going to go try and get it. I didn’t want to not give everything I had on the court, so wherever the ball was, I was. Whether that was a loose ball or a long rebound, I was going to go get it, make winning plays and help my team get extra possessions.”
Musselman thinks Felix can bring that intensity and energy to the League right away.
“I definitely think he’s an NBA-worthy second round Draft pick. He’s a phenomenal kid with a great work ethic who keeps getting better,” the coach said. “But from an NBA coaching perspective, you can put him in a game right now. Because of his athleticism and the combination of his strength and speed, he can play at the next level right now, and he’ll keep getting better.”
Where Felix can likely have an instant impact on the NBA hardwood is on the defensive side of the ball. Musselman says that Felix can use his size and athleticism to guard any position from point guard to a power forward. “Right now, defensively is where my mind is at,” Felix said. “But I definitely think during the years to come, I’m going to work hard on my three-point shot and I could be automatic from the three. The first year is always a test in the water, but from there is where you have to work and grind and try to elevate your game.”
Felix and Musselman agree that the guard must improve his ball handling and the consistency on his jumper in order to bring his game to its ultimate potential. But the kid drilled 37.4 percent from deep in his senior season and already has the speed to take bigger wings off the dribble. His foundation to build upon is pretty damn sturdy.
Considering the adversity he’s completed to get to this point, those subtle tweaks and improvements shouldn’t be too far down the road.