PG North: Pine-Richland grad excels in role as sixth man on W&J basketball squad
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Jumping into the flow of the action isn't an issue for Brian Felker, and neither is the possibility of having to adjust on the fly to whomever he is guarding.
A Pine-Richland High School graduate, Felker doesn't have a problem with coming off the bench for the Washington & Jefferson College basketball team for ego reasons, and -- judging by the statistics he's putting up -- it clearly hasn't hurt his performance, either.
No, the lone concern Felker has with not being in the starting lineup, despite being the team's leading scorer, has to do with all the questions he gets about it.
"The only thing that's tough is going home trying to explain why I'm not starting," Felker said. "I had the same conversation several times with people over Christmas break:
" 'Are you playing a lot this year?' 'Yes.' 'Are you starting?' 'No.' 'Why?' 'Well, that's just what the coach wants.'
"I have to keep talking about it, but it's really worked out great."
Felker, a 6-foot-4 guard, is averaging a team-best 14.9 points per game for the Presidents (7-8).
The funny thing is, Felker's coach gets asked about why he isn't starting just about as much as Felker does.
"Bringing him off the bench is allowing us to have firepower coming into the game," Washington & Jefferson coach Glen Gutierrez said. "Some people probably look at me and ask why he doesn't start. That's the reason. We want to bring someone off the bench who's capable of scoring.
"He's our leading scorer, and he's fit right into that role and pretty well accepted that role. He and I have never really talked about it except for right before the first game."
Truth is, Felker couldn't have been too caught off guard by that philosophy. Bringing a top offensive threat off the bench is something Gutierrez has done regularly during his four years as coach at W&J.
Last season, Baldwin's Josip Lucic-Jozak averaged 15.5 points per game while starting only one of the Presidents' 30 games. Lucic-Jozak was named to the All-Presidents' Athletic Conference first team, but did not start for W&J.
Felker could be on a similar track if he continues to play the way he has and the Presidents have the kind of season they did last year, winning 20 games and taking the ECAC Division III South title.
"The minutes are going to be there whether he starts or comes off the bench," Gutierrez said.
Last season, Felker was third on the team in scoring at 11.3 points per game -- you guessed it -- coming off the bench. He ranked fourth on the team in scoring as a freshman at 8.9 points per game.
He is ranked second on the team in 3-pointers made all three seasons, but his game has evolved beyond just being a long-range shooter.
"That's part of his maturation process," Gutierrez said. "In the past, he kind of at times would go into a comfort zone where he just settled for the perimeter shots. And this year, I think he's done a great job at not being that guy.
"He shoots the 3, but he also drives to the basket and he gets to the [free-throw] line. He has a very good mid-range jumper and can dribble hard and then pull up.
"He's having a great year for us. He came out of the gates almost in midseason form and has carried us pretty much all year in terms of scoring."
Felker originally was recruited by W&J to play football as a wide receiver. But when he had a strong senior season on the basketball court for Pine-Richland, colleges took notice and began to recruit him more heavily for that sport.
When Gutierrez came calling, Felker already had a strong familiarity of and affinity for W&J, making the decision easier.
Although he came to Washington & Jefferson intending to play football and basketball, he has concentrated on academics and basketball.
"It's working out real well, as well as could be expected," Felker said.
First Published January 14, 2010 12:00 am