COLUMBIA, S.C. — Rakym Felder’s mind always was on getting to South Carolina to play basketball.
But before the Gamecocks freshman point guard played a minute at his “dream school,” he almost undid any chance of having a future in one night. The freshman was arrested in late October, charged with resisting arrest and simple assault. He was suspended, but was granted a second chance by coach Frank Martin and the USC athletic administration.
“I just went to the front office and thanked everyone for giving me a second chance,” Felder said. “This university is great and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here. This is my dream school. When I found out I got that second chance, I just got that feeling that I can’t play anymore. Everything is business from here on.”
Felder calls the second opportunity “amazing” and has every intention of making the most of it. He talks about the person he wants to be off the court and the player he wants to be on it.
He also talks about having beaten himself up for the night he knocked a person unconscious with what police described as a sucker punch — a night that could have seen him throw away everything he sought to have at South Carolina. But he didn’t lose it, the magnitude of that fact not lost on Felder.
“I knew Frank had my back,” Felder said. “He wouldn’t give up on me because of the relationship I built with him before I got here. I knew since Day 1, he was never going to give up on me. He would never turn on me.
“I want to repay him by going hard every day and just doing what he asks and getting good grades and being that leader that he expects me to be.”
Felder pegged a strong relationship with Martin being one of his biggest reasons for choosing to play at South Carolina, although he fell in love with the school before Martin arrived. He appreciates the coach’s straight-shooting approach that doesn’t allow him to baby his players.
In Felder’s case, that led to a difficult first conversation with Martin following his arrest.
“He was more disappointed in me,” Felder said. “It was like a father-son conversation and how disappointed he was. But he’s not going to give up. We are just going to move forward from here and not take any steps back. I think that was pretty good. He made me feel like he was here for me and he was never going to turn on me.”
Martin has been turning to Felder more of late with senior guard Sindarius Thornwell suspended indefinitely. The freshman point guard from Brooklyn, N.Y., has played more than 20 minutes in two of the past three games, averaging 20 per game in Thornwell’s absence. He posted a career-high 11 points against South Florida on Saturday.
“I think I have stepped up, but I’m a freshman so I am still getting used to the offense,” Felder said. “On defense, he has big shoes to fill being (part of the SEC’s All-Defensive Team). I am trying to match his intensity on that. I’m trying to win that one day.”
Felder saw he could contribute defensively during his two-game suspension following his arrest. From the bench, he identified the impact he could have as a defensive spark plug, and small talks with coaches confirmed that as a productive role for the freshman.
But after almost letting it all slip away, Felder is simply happy to have a role and to be at South Carolina, the school he was so focused on playing for that he barely listened to other potential suitors in his recruitment.
“My mind was get here somehow,” Felder said. “It’s so crazy because I’m here now and every day I wake up like, ‘Wow, I’m here.’ Now, I know what I’ve gotta do now. I’ve gotta focus on being a good teammate, being a great basketball player and doing good at school.”