INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — For his entire life, Kay Felder had dreamt of the day that he could put on an NBA uniform.
Standing at a charitable 5-foot-9, weighing in at 176 pounds and playing ball at a mid-major school in the Horizon League didn’t exactly point the odds in his favor.
However, growing up as a kid in Detroit, Felder was raised as a determined person who never backs down from a challenge and was set on his vision.
The preparation began just before his sophomore year of college.
“I started to just have a different mindset and changed my mentality about how I approached the college game,” Felder said.
“I wanted to be a pro, and my coach told me before I came in he was going to make me a pro, so I just took that mindset. Every summer I just worked harder.”
Under the guidance of the NCAA’s third-longest tenured head coach Greg Kampe (only behind Duke’s Mike Krzyzeweski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim), Felder played three seasons with the Golden Grizzlies.
During that period, Felder opened a lot of eyes with history-making accomplishments, highlighted by his sensational final year.
In 2015-16, Felder led the entire NCAA in assists per game and was a finalist for the Wooden Award. He led his conference in nearly every category, setting the Horizon League record for total assists and assists per game.
With a plethora of awards earned through his junior year, Felder decided to forego his senior season and enter the NBA Draft, and on June 23rd, his journey had begun.
With the 54th overall pick, the Atlanta Hawks selected Felder late in the draft. It was learned soon after, though, that the pick was for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who paid $2.4 million for his rights.
Felder described the feeling as “surreal,” admitting he’d watched every playoff game and the NBA Finals this past summer.
“It was just amazing to see them win a title and bring one back home,” Felder said of the Cavs’ triumph. “And then, for me to get picked and for them to go out and get me, it’s crazy. I love it.”
The organization’s push to get Felder was a proactive move, knowing that Matthew Dellavedova was going to earn himself a pay day and Mo Williams was unsure of his future playing status.
Now with one in Milwaukee and the other retired, Felder finds himself in a position to potentially become a key part of the Cavs’ second unit right off of the bat.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Felder said. “First it starts with practice. I have to show the coaches to put that trust in me to put me out there on the floor. That’s first and foremost. That’s what I’m worried about.”
Just because there’s an open spot doesn’t mean it gets handed to him, of course. Jordan McRae, a locker room favorite who played in 17 games with the team last year, is another favorite to be the guy backing up Irving.
LeBron James looks forward to seeing both Felder and McRae assume that role.
“We have a wide range of personnel,” the NBA’s 4-time MVP said. “I don’t even think it’s a competition between Kay and Jordan. I think they’re both going to work their tails off, and if their numbers are called, then I think they’ll be ready.
“Obviously Kay’s going to have a bit more learning to do, just him being a rookie and learning the system and things of that nature. But he’s a guy in college who played a lot of good basketball at Oakland.”
Cavs general manager David Griffin is also interested in seeing how things shake out during training camp.
“This is a training camp that for the first time I’ve been here will be incredibly competitive, relative to roster spots themselves,” Griffin said.
“We’re really excited about the guys that we have in camp that have a chance to earn a job and Kay Felder being one of those kids we anticipate will have a good run at something for us.”
As of now, head coach Tyronn Lue has said he’ll approach the situation by committee and the feel of the game.
But no matter how things turn out, Felder is going to take this as a learning experience and will leave everything he has out on the floor.
“I hold myself to a higher accountability than everybody else does,” he said. “But this is a different level now, and I have to get acclimated. The vets on the team — they’ve all been pulling my way and telling me things to help me out and to get me to that standard.
“I just have to be a sponge and learn.”