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Born to play hoops

Often drawing a crowd, Redwood Valley's Mike Felt hoots a jumper against Tracy-Milroy-Balaton in a non-conference game on March 3 in Redwood Falls. (Tribune photo by T.J. Bartelt)1 / 2
Mike Felt drives against Tracy-Milroy-Balaton in a game March 3 in Redwood Falls. (Tribune photo by T.J. Bartelt)2 / 2

A few years ago, Mike Felt was asked by his parents, Virgil and Cathy, to look after his little sister for a while. Instead of coloring with her or playing with some of her favorite toys, Mike dragged Sam outside to the basketball hoop. After hours of having to play basketball, Sam finally relented and called her mother crying to the affect "All Mike wants to do is play basketball."

Now a senior at Redwood Valley, all Mike still wants to do is play basketball. To the tune of 2,410 career points. Felt recently broke the Tribune area career scoring mark previously held by 1962 Danube graduate Bob Bruggers (2,364). The record had stood the test of time for 47 years until this scoring machine came along.

"I've played basketball as long as I can remember," said Felt, a 6-2 guard who has led the area in scoring each of the past two seasons. "I've devoted a lot of time into basketball and it's all been worth it."

Felt, whose career-high game was 56 last year against Waseca, is currently averaging 30.0 points-per-game and has the Cardinals in the Section 3AA-North semifinals against powerhouse MACCRAY on Thursday. The game, one of the most talked about matchups in recent years, was moved from its previous site at Granite Falls to Willmar to accommodate the expected large turnout of fans.

Felt's father, Virgil, worked with Mike on his shot at an early age. But, unlike a lot of young players struggling to loft the basketball toward the hoop, Mike didn't start shooting a regulation basketball until seventh grade.

"We started with those little mini's; small rubber basketballs that could fit in his hand," explained Virgil. "We used those until he was five or six. He got to use the girls' ball full time when he was seven or eight. But he would never shoot from any great distance."

Virgil, a 1975 Sebeka graduate, coached seventh grade boys basketball for seven years and was amazed at the number of bad playground habits the kids had picked up.

"It was because they were heaving these huge basketball that their little hands couldn't control," Virgil said. "So they would bring it from their hips and were throwing with both hands. That's why I knew to start out with a smaller ball for Mike until he grew a little more."

The logic seems to be paying dividends. Felt is shooting nearly 47 percent from the floor, including 38.4 percent from three-point land and has drained an area-leading 104 treys this season. He has also only missed 16 free throws all season in 139 attempts (89 percent). On Saturday in Redwood Falls, Felt cashed 17-of-18 free throws, hitting his first 16 in a row before finally missing. He finished with 39 points, including 27 in the second half.

Felt has 334 career three-pointers, the fourth most in Minnesota history. And he is currently 14th all-time in scoring.

Comparative styles

Felt has impressed his current head coach, Markus Okeson, who is in his first year at Redwood Valley. Okeson came from Ellsworth where he coached Cody Schilling, the state's all-time scoring leader.

"When you compare Mike Felt and Cody Schilling, the thing that comes to mind is their work ethic," said Okeson, who won two state titles with Ellsworth. "Each one of these players spend hours in the gym. Another thing they have in common is that they love to play the game of basketball and they are both really competitive. And they are both outstanding athletes and very coachable."

Drawing attention

But Felt isn't just about shooting the ball. Against GFW, he was often double-teamed and sometimes even triple-teamed in the first half. When he would slash to the basket, the lane would close quickly. But instead of trying to take on all comers, he kicked the ball back out to Sam Knudsen or another teammate who was open. Knudsen, a junior, connected on 7-of-8 three-pointers in the first half while benefitting from the added attention on Felt. GFW then put more pressure on Knudsen and held him without a point in the second half. That gave Felt more room to operate and he poured in 27 of his points in the second half to help the Cardinals prevail, 80-71.

"Mike's strength is that he can shoot the ball from anywhere on the floor," said Okeson. "He has great range and can really stretch the defense. (And) he has the ability to get to the rim and finish at the rim. When teams run a double-team at him, which we have seen a lot of, we try to focus on his teammates making open shots. We have many kids capable of stepping up and having big games if they are left open."

Felt, who has signed a national letter of intent to play basketball for North Dakota State, enjoys having the team look to him for scoring and leadership.

"I have always liked it because when things are going good and the team is doing well, nothing can top that," he said. "But the downside is when things are not going well, a lot of the blame is put on you. But it's all about how you respond."

Felt has confidence in his teammates as evidenced by his 123 assists this season (4.9 per game). He also averages 8.0 rebounds and nearly two steals.

"I've gotten used to being (doubled-teamed)," he said. "It's not a surprise anymore. I got frustrated when I was a sophomore, but have learned how to beat it and not let if affect my game. I try to distribute the ball more and rely on my teammates to make open shots. Which they have done a great job of this year."

But Felt is also capable of taking over a game if needed. He scored 56 points in a game last year against, but his most memorable game came while he was relegated to the bench after fouling out as a sophomore against Marshall.

"I remember the Marshall game because it was double overtime and I had to watch from the bench," he said. "The atmosphere of that game was crazy."

Eyes on state

Felt would like nothing more than to play in the state tournament his senior year. His team won the Southwest Conference title and they would like to continue to add to the Cardinals' resume. But, despite an impressive 20-5 record, Redwood Valley is only the No. 4 seed. Anticipating a huge turnout for the semifinals, section officials moved the site of the games from Granite Falls to Willmar on Thursday. Redwood Valley and MACCRAY will meet at 6 p.m., while Minnesota Valley Lutheran and Montevideo follow in the other semifinal at approximately 7:30 p.m. 

"We are going to give a great amount of effort because we are not the biggest team, but I feel we are one of the most skilled teams," said Felt. "We are simply going to have to outwork teams and execute our plays and finish."

Following footsteps

And what about Sam? Well, the freshman is developing into a solid player with the Redwood Valley basketball team.

"There are a lot of similarities between me and my sister," Mike said. "She is going to develop a very nice jump shot, which is already coming along. She starts as a freshman, just like I did. I think she has learned how to be mentally tough from me."

The Redwood Valley girls are one win from state and will face Pipestone in the 3AA championship on Friday in Marshall.

Mike has already been to state in cross country and track. One of the area's top-rated quarterbacks on Cardinals' football team as a junior, Felt switched sports this past fall to condition for basketball. And he helped Redwood Valley qualify as a team, while also qualifying individually. In his first year as a distance runner, he placed 70th out of 156 at the state cross country meet. He has also been to state each of the past three seasons in track and field, competing on relay teams. 

For now, though, his focus is solely on basketball and how to get past a taller and highly-talented MACCRAY team.

Felt only has one regret in basketball. He wishes he were two inches taller. His opponents also often have one regret ... that he is on the other side.