Most members of the South Carolina basketball program’s Final Four run have graduated and moved onto the next step in their lives, but there’s one player that’s still looking for a strong finish to his collegiate career.
The 2016-17 South Carolina basketball season was one for the record books, as they say. Head coach Frank Martin led the Gamecocks to the apex of the sport, and wrote his team’s name in the history books. Reaching the Final Four is one of the top five moments in Carolina’s athletics, maybe just behind a couple of baseball national titles.
Coach Martin is still at the helm, but much around him has changed since that moment. SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell was selected in the ensuing NBA Draft. Teammates Chris Silva, PJ Dozier, and Duane Notice have all tested the professional waters, too. Then-freshman Maik Kotsar just wrapped up his senior season, as have most of the members on that ’16-’17 roster.
Then, there’s Rakym Felder, who was a freshman point guard at the time. The Brooklyn native looked poised to take over in the starting lineup the year following the Final Four run and lead the Gamecocks back to the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, that plan was derailed by an offseason arrest prior to his sophomore season, the second in his short time in Columbia.
So where is he now? Let’s take a look at Felder’s journey as he hopes to write a redemption story to close out his collegiate career.
Felder came to the University of South Carolina from Brooklyn, NY, though he did spend some of his youth living in Fort Mill, SC. He was rated nationally as a top 400 prospect after finishing up his high school career. Already a fan of the program, he seemed to fit the tough-nosed style of his new head coach. It seemed like a perfect match.
Felder enrolled in 2016, becoming a reserve point guard. He ran into early trouble in Five Points prior to the ’16-’17 season, which resulted in an arrest and subsequent suspension from the basketball team. After sitting out the first game of the year, Felder returned.
In his backup role, he averaged just 5.6 points per game, but showed flashes of great athleticism, as well as a silky left-handed jump shot. The 5’10” point man then kicked it up a notch as the Gamecocks earned their first NCAA Tournament invite in more than 40 years.
Throughout the first three matchups of the tournament, Felder stepped up his game, averaging over 10 points per contest versus Marquette, Duke, and Baylor. His best performance was against the Blue Devils, where he scored 15 points and dished out three assists without committing a turnover.
The Gamecocks would lose a few games later to Gonzaga, capping the end of a historic season.
Post Final Four Run
Following the season, South Carolina saw four guards depart the program through either graduation or professional ambitions, leaving Felder a golden opportunity to take the reins as starting point guard. Unfortunately, another offseason altercation in Five Points got in the way.
His second arrest in nine months led to his dismissal from the program. He was able to re-enroll during his sophomore season and contribute as a practice player, but he never made it back to the basketball roster and transferred following the year.
Felder landed at New Mexico Junior College to play his sophomore season. He would start five games, averaging 8.7 points and 5.7 assists per game. He wouldn’t play after the eighth contest of the year, though, and was on the move again. He originally intended to sign with Kent State the following year, but it never materialized.
For his junior season, Felder wound up on the roster at Wiley College in Texas, where he only played in two games before getting hurt. Now, he looks to bounce back for his final season of eligibility.
Felder will now join his fourth team in as many seasons. He recently announced that he’ll be attending Tuskegee University in Alabama. Felder tweeted out the news in March, saying “Faith and perseverance is the key to overcoming any obstacles.”
He must now seize this moment and make the most of his final opportunity, both on and off the court. Felder hasn’t forgotten the guidance received from Frank Martin, either, which hopefully will help him stay the course. In fact, Felder listed Martin among his favorite coaches in his Wiley College biography, stating that he’s been one of the most supportive people throughout his career.
Coach Martin certainly still thinks highly of his former player, too, despite his mistakes as an 18-year-old kid. Even following the dismissal from the team, Martin had this to say about Felder.
“It breaks my soul…He’s very dear to me. I’ll continue to be a human being with him, but unfortunately the privilege of playing basketball here, he didn’t meet the guidelines we both agreed to put in place before he agreed to come back. So, I couldn’t do it.”
Here’s to Felder meeting those expectations in Tuskegee, and finishing his career on top. Coach Martin and Gamecock Nation won’t soon forget the impact he made in his time in Columbia.