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Why Jalek Felton adds immediate value to North Carolina

Team Clutch''s Jalek Felton #5 warms up against Team Drive in the Under Armour Elite 24 game on Saturday, August 20, 2016 in Brooklyn, NY. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
Gregory Payan/AP photo

Less than four months after winning its sixth NCAA title in program history, the North Carolina Tar Heels basketball program is already looking ahead to next season.

The team released its 2017-18 roster on Monday, with a wave of new freshmen included. Among the rookie crop are multiple players who could crack the regular rotation right away, but one in particular stands out.

That, of course, is 4-star newcomer Jalek Felton.

Felton’s name rings familiar even for Tar Heel fans who don’t follow recruiting. His uncle, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Raymond Felton, helped lead North Carolina to a national championship in 2005. In some ways, that provided coach Roy Williams an advantage in recruiting Jalek, who — while garnering early attention from major programs — committed to North Carolina during his sophomore year of high school.

Williams was thinking about more than just a last name when he extended a scholarship offer to the 2017 guard. At the prep level, Felton made a quick impression on coaches and recruiting analysts alike, landing at No. 27 in his class in 247Sports’ composite rankings. Not only is he by far the highest-rated player in UNC’s 2017 group, he’ll also have the chance to play an important role in the backcourt.

Much of the talk this offseason has surrounded the Tar Heels’ lack of depth in the paint, but questions also linger in other areas. Point guards Nate Britt and Stilman White have graduated, and ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson departed for the NBA Draft. In addition, sophomore shooting guard Kenny Williams (22 starts in 2016-17) had surgery this month on the same knee in which he tore his meniscus in February.

With UNC having holes to fill around the perimeter, Felton’s versatility comes into play.

The West Columbia, S.C., native can play both guard positions, which should help him get on the court from Day 1. Should Roy Williams opt to develop him at point guard — a likely scenario with Britt and White gone — Felton could split backup minutes with Seventh Woods and even play at the same time as Joel Berry in some scenarios. Should injuries, like Kenny Williams’, create a need for shooting guard depth, Felton can step in.

Felton excels on offense, scoring in a variety of ways. At the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in 2015, the 6-foot-3 standout scored a tournament-record 55 points in a single game. His 3-point shot won’t need as much work as those of most UNC freshmen from recent years, and he can also get to the basket with ease.

Whether Felton earns a starting role is up in the air. Veterans Theo Pinson and Berry are sure to hold spots in the starting five, while Pitt transfer Cam Johnson will be difficult to keep off the court as well.

But even if Felton comes off the bench to begin his college career, his skills will make him valuable in many different situations.

That puts him in excellent position to make an enormous freshman impact for the Tar Heels.

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