Kay Felder’s rookie season is everything he could have asked for, even though he’s gone through a whirlwind of assignments.
His summer last year started off at one extreme: being a few picks away from going undrafted (he went No. 54). And the end of his summer finished at another: signing a three-year contract with the defending champion Cavaliers. Then this season, he’s been back and forth between the team and its D-League affiliate, the Canton Charge, about 10 times—with the latest time being recalled by the Cavs this past weekend.
But the soft-spoken Felder, who averaged 29.9 points in 36.0 minutes per game in 11 contests with the Charge, is grateful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be in Cleveland—guarding Kyrie Irving in practice and observing LeBron James, among other lessons from his veteran teammates. With the Cavaliers, he’s played in 39 games and scored in double figures six times in only 19.2 minutes on average in those outings. What makes his story also interesting is that the southpaw is one of the shortest players in the league at 5’9″, and he’s spreading his unique impact to his hometown of Detroit through his annual summer basketball camp.
This past week, Felder, who turned 22 on Wednesday, chatted with the NBPA to recap the emotions of draft night and discuss his NBA progression, Cavaliers experience and community outreach back home.
NBPA: What was draft night like for you?
Kay Felder: Draft night for me was kind of sweet, definitely emotional at the same time. I was in downtown Detroit with all of my family at a club that I had rented out to watch the draft. Really it was emotional the whole night because coming from Detroit, and being able to be in that position, was just grateful in itself. And once my name did get called, I just hugged my mom. I was holding on to her tight, and we started crying.
NBPA: How did you mentally prepare yourself before the draft?
KF: I just was ready for whatever. I was ready for my name to be called or not to be called. Whatever happens just happens; I was just ready for it all.
NBPA: Where did you think you would end up?
KF: I don’t know; that’s the thing. I had no expectations honestly. Everybody was telling me, “You might go here, you might go there.” I didn’t listen to any of it because I just wanted to know for myself where I was going to go.
NBPA: Playing for the defending champs this season, what is it like to be a part of such a high-profile, high-powered team?
KF: It’s great honestly. There is so much knowledge in that locker room. We have so many great vets—guys that have been in this league for a long time, guys that have played with other great players. So I just take that all in consideration. Whenever they tell me something, I always make sure that I’m listening.
NBPA: Are there any vets you are particularly close to?
KF: Me and Kyrie, our bond is starting to get closer. Then DeAndre Liggins is also one of my close guys.
NBPA: What advice have they given you?
KF: Come in, work hard. But they don’t just tell me things; they also show. That’s the main key. I’m a visual learner, so that’s the most important thing to me—to be watching and see it.
NBPA: Do you use that visual learning approach with becoming a better shooter?
KF: Most definitely. I try to shoot like Kyle Korver. He tells me about his shot and what he did to get his shot to where it is today. I also watch Kyrie; he has a great shot on him, too.
NBPA: How has your cousin, former NBA player and current NBA TV studio analyst Steve Smith, helped you?
KF: Just make sure I take care of my body. He always texts me different things that will help me out, with me being smart or just to always make sure I’m staying engaged, and make sure I’m always being seen.
NBPA: How do you take care of your body?
KF: Ice tub, get treatment. Whatever little knick-knack I have, I just take care of it in the training room.
NBPA: As a shorter point guard, what are some techniques or tricks that you use?
KF: I like to use my speed and I also like to use my athletic ability. I like to jump into big bodies and create contact first, so that way I can take their shot-block ability away. And I can pressure up on defense and get under a guy’s skin.
NBPA: Guarding Kyrie in practice, what have you learned about the game from him?
KF: I’m just trying not to get brushed up too bad. It’s Kyrie Irving, so I’m just learning how easy he scores the ball and how easy he makes the game for himself.
NBPA: Is there anything that you are trying to improve on right now?
KF: Right now, I’m improving on my vocal leadership and being more talkative, because I am kind of a quiet guy and don’t like to talk a lot. And I’m focusing on being a floor general and making sure I’m giving guys the ball.
NBPA: How does someone at your young age trying to learn the ropes develop that vocal leadership?
KF: I watch LeBron a lot, just because he sees the game five plays ahead before everybody else sees them. That’s where I’m trying to get to. And I see him always talking in practice and always leading guys.
NBPA: Overall, was your rookie season everything you expected it to be?
KF: It’s actually everything I wanted it to be. I’m learning, I’m playing—even though I’m with the Canton Charge right now. I am still learning to play the game of basketball at the same time. Hopefully I get some championship-level experience with the Cavs if they go on this playoff push. So everything is actually going great for my rookie year. I’m in a great position.
NBPA: What has your experience been like being in the D-League and then getting called back up?
KF: It’s actually been fun. It’s been a learning process. That’s with everything; everything is a process. You’re not just going to get it right off the bat. It takes time, and that’s what this process is showing me and I’m just basically going with the flow. Having that confidence in the D-League and trying to bring it on to the floor with the Cavs.
NBPA: What are your goals looking ahead?
KF: My goals looking ahead are just to prove that I can play on the NBA stage. And I can defend anyone that I’m checking. Also, I want to show that I can run the team, just building trust around the Cavs organization as a whole.
NBPA: What have you learned about the lifestyle and business parts of being in the NBA?
KF: It’s a lot of free time that you have going on, so that’s when the business side comes in. That’s when guys get their own clothing line and things like that. They keep themselves busy. Also, a lot of times it’s working on your game. That’s what I do.
NBPA: Would you like to have your own clothing line? What do you enjoy in your spare time?
KF: I do want to start one; I have a couple things in mind. And I like to go bowling, to the movies. I also like to do community work whenever is possible. I made a couple of appearances this season during Thanksgiving and Christmas.
NBPA: How do you make a community impact back home in Detroit?
KF: Last summer, I gave out a free, one-day camp for 300-plus kids at Joe Dumars Fieldhouse. I taught them a little skills and let them play up and down. Also, I gave out free T-shirts and things like that. And this summer, the same thing. And then whenever I go back to Detroit, the kids come up to me and ask questions, and I’m giving them my knowledge of what I know. They always ask me what it takes to get where I am, and I just tell them the truth. It takes you being confident in your abilities.