I’m tired of hearing how great Raymond Felton is.
The North Carolina guard is certainly one of the five best point guards in the ACC, and he is the floor leader of the most talented squad in the country. But any objective measure of his performance and progress at North Carolina should lead one to conclude that he has been a disappointment.
Felton won the 2002 high school Naismith Award, a prize that acknowledges the best high school player in the country. Felton was selected for the award over players like Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, who have both averaged more than 20 points a game for a full NBA season. At Carolina, Felton has yet to average more than 13 points per game or take his team to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
Despite this, Felton receives nothing but respect and praise. “Hey, everybody loves Raymond baby!” Dick Vitale wrote of Felton while selecting him for his 2005 preseason All-Rolls-Royce SUPER SIX First Team on ESPN.com. “He is so creative and innovative, and I believe he’ll have a phenomenal season. Felton has improved his perimeter game, and within coach Roy Williams’ system he’ll be ready to explode.”
I would not have a problem with the lack of criticism if there had not been a similar player who took significant heat for not dominating during his junior year. That player was Duke’s Chris Duhon.
Duhon arrived at Duke with Felton-like hype after winning the Morgan Wooten National Player of the Year and the McDonald’s All-American three-point contest. As a freshman in 2000-2001, Duhon mostly served as a role-player before coming on strong and starting in all six of the Blue Devils’ NCAA Tournament victories.
During his sophomore year, Duhon once again played in the shadow of All-Americans Jay Williams, Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer. But in his junior year, Duhon was expected to take more of a leadership role and was voted preseason ACC Player of the Year in 2002-2003. Duhon struggled throughout his third year at Duke, only earning third-team All-ACC honors. Duhon’s offensive numbers were only slightly worse than Felton’s as the Blue Devil finished the season averaging 9.2 points and 6.4 assists per game. But comparing Duhon’s significant leadership skills and defensive abilities to Felton’s makes the differences in offensive production negligible.
But Duhon was criticized all year by Duke fans and Duke-haters, alike, for so clearly playing below his potential. During his senior season—when he finally did obtain All-American status—Duhon admitted he had been disappointing as a junior.
“I used to beat myself up for every little mistake and try to be that perfect leader,” Duhon told the Blue Devil Weekly. “I felt like I couldn’t make any mistakes. I didn't realize that nobody is perfect. This year I came in with a new mindset: to go out and enjoy every game, to play each game with a high energy level, to share these locker rooms and games with these guys I’m with because I will not have a second chance to do it again.”
I can’t even imagine anyone asking Felton a question about his struggles because no one acts as if he is struggling. Felton certainly is a good player and creates a lot of matchup problems for opposing teams, but he has not come anywhere close to dominating college basketball. If Duhon was a disappointment in 2002-2003, Felton is a bigger one in 2004-2005.
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