Arizona State swingman Carrick Felix was making it up as he went along in the slam dunk championship at the Final Four last week, feeding off the crowd, taking suggestions from players—flying by the seat of his pants, you might say—when inspiration struck, giving him an opportunity to show off his one obvious NBA skill.
To pull off the dunk that would earn him a perfect 10 from all four judges, Felix had to recruit Murray State point guard Isaiah Canaan, who had competed in the 3-point competition, for help. Canaan took a couple of dribbles along the right baseline and tossed the ball high off the side of the backboard. Trailing right behind Canaan, Felix left the floor, caught the ball with one hand, cocked it back and rammed it through the rim as the crowd roared its approval.
“Crazy,” Felix described it. Crazy indeed. Not quite enough to win—that honor went to the equally high-flying Doug Anderson of Detroit Mercy as Felix finished second—but more than enough to demonstrate what NBA scouts already knew.
Carrick Felix can rise.
If leaping ability were all the 6-foot-6 Felix had to offer, the man who received nary a Division I scholarship offer out of high school would still stand a chance to get drafted. But that’s just his obvious NBA skill. He’s got an arsenal of slightly less tangible weapons that have to be seen every day to be appreciated.
“He’s a next-level loose ball getter,” said Arizona State assistant coach Eric Musselman, a former NBA head coach (Sacramento, Golden State). “He’ll get a loose ball as well as anyone in the nation. That sounds crazy, but Carrick is an extra possession getter, whether it’s tracking down a 50-50 ball, getting an offensive rebound, whatever. He thinks the ball belongs to him.”
“Carrick’s got a motor that never shuts down,” said Dedrique Taylor, a former Arizona State assistant who late last month became the head coach at Cal State Fullerton. “He makes game-winning plays. That’s become his calling card.”
Division I schools may not have noticed that—at least not until Felix spent a couple of years, including a medical redshirt, at the College of Southern Idaho—but he’s been hustling for a long time.
“I just make sure I don’t take plays off,” Felix said. “There aren’t a lot of guys who play every second of every play in every game. But since I was little, I was always that kid. Even playing outside, I’d dive after balls, trying to save them from going out of bounds. Even shooting 3s by myself in the gym. If a shot bounced off the rim and started heading out bounds, I’d go after it and try to get it before it did.”
In addition to his leaping ability and hustle, Felix can defend. And because of his length and athleticism, he’s capable of guarding multiple positions.
“He’s made his rep being able to guard [positions] one through four in college,” Taylor said. “I would equate that to one through three at the next level.”
Musselman takes that a step farther.
“You could say that Carrick could guard one through three and a half,” Musselman said. “He’s not going to be able to handle a power forward who likes to pound it in the low post. But he can guard face-up fours.”
Felix can also rebound his position—he averaged 8.1 this season—and his understanding of the game and how it’s played is impressive, no surprise given his success in the classroom. This season Felix earned a Masters degree and was chosen the Pac-12 men’s basketball scholar-athlete of the year.
It seems hard to believe Felix was forced to go to junior college out of high school, but there was a reason for the Division I snub. At 6-5 and 160 pounds “wringing wet,” Felix said, he was deemed far to scrawny to compete physically.
As it turned out, going to junior college was the best thing that could have happened to Felix.
“I chose Twin Falls, Idaho because there was nothing really out there,” Felix said. “I could focus on becoming a better player and doing the things I had to do. I spent all my time in the gym and doing homework.”
Felix’s hard work paid off better than he could have hoped. He was injured and didn’t play his first season at Southern Idaho, but during the fall of his second year there, he began attracting attention from Division I schools.
“My biggest offer was Kent State,” Felix said. “I remember one of our assistants telling me to sign, that Kent State would probably be the best offer I was going to get. But I told him I was going to wait it out. I had a feeling that if I kept working hard, good things would happen.”
Felix couldn’t have imagined how right he was. Never before had Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski signed a junior college player, but Felix’s combination of athleticism and academic success appealed to him. Felix signed with the Blue Devils, who had just won the national championship, in the spring of 2010. But Kyle Singler’s decision to stay in school and not place his name in the NBA Draft made Felix reconsider. He asked out of his scholarship, coach K amicably obliged, and when Arizona State offered the native of Phoenix jumped at the chance to return home.
With three seasons of eligibility, Felix has steadily improved, turning weaknesses into strengths—the former slasher shot 37 percent from 3 this season—and becoming one of the more well rounded players in the country. And now, he’s got a chance to get drafted and compete for a spot on an NBA roster.
“Amazing,” Felix said. “Considering the long road I’ve taken and the journey that I’ve been on.”
Musselman and Taylor think that journey will end up at the next level.
“He could play six to eight minutes a half in the NBA right now,” Musselman said.
“All the NBA scouts I’ve spoken with are enamored with his energy and effort,” Taylor said. “They’re intrigued with what he brings defensively. And he gives you a character kid that you don’t have to worry about what he’s doing off the floor.
“A huge part of the NBA right now is finding guys that are mature off the floor and take care of business. Carrick Felix takes care of business.”