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Column: As leading rebounder Luke Feely’s confidence has grown, so has his impact for the Cru

Above photo of Luke Feely by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru

BELTON, Texas- He can guard anybody, Clif Carroll says. He’s begun to show signs of being special, the head coach added. And despite being four seasons removed from high school, he has two more years of college basketball ahead of him. 

That player is UMHB forward Luke Feely, who, after not seeing the court at all in two years at D-II Black Hills State, has established himself as one of the Cru’s most versatile competitors. With an innate defensive prowess, and an aggressiveness that sees him dive for a loose ball more than once each time UMHB steps on the floor, it is easy to see why Carroll, the team’s second-year head coach, has excitement in his voice when the 6’4 standout’s name is mentioned.

“He hasn’t played in three seasons,” Carroll recently noted. “You don’t realize how tough that is to basically take a career off then come back and play. Knocking off rust is a big deal for him, and so is confidence, rhythm and things like that. 

“He’s done a really nice job working his way into the lineup and being a reliable guy we can count on. He’s starting to show some signs of being special.” 

Carroll said that in late December. Now, three weeks later, Feely’s stat line has improved to a respectable 10.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. The Argyle, Texas native has led the team in rebounds in each of the last six games, five of which were victories. Needless to say, the rest of the team has begun looking to the Argyle, Texas product when it comes to the rebounding battle. But that was not anything they did not recognize well before the season began. 

“It didn’t take us very long at all for us to figure out that he could be a huge factor for us,” Carroll said. “He can really do some things that we were missing last year; rebounding, defensive play.” 

For Feely to arrive in Belton, it first took three years about as far from the central Texas city as you can get, in a town of 10,000 nestled in the hills of South Dakota. Spearfish, SD, the home of Black Hills State University, was Feely’s landing spot out of Argyle High, where he was a 4A All-District honoree as a senior. A two-star recruit on a team that posted a 24-8 record during the 2017-18 season, he was expected to contribute within two seasons for a BHSU program that went 15-12 the year before Feely arrived. 

But things took a different turn, as Feely redshirted his first year on campus, and then was injured the following year, just before the season began. Prior to his third season, in 2020-21, he contracted Covid right as the season was beginning, and was put into Covid protocols, which spanned nearly a month.

“It was humbling for a while,” Feely recently told True To The Cru. “I learned a lot, being at a D-II. There’s bigger guys, we had a lot of talent on that team and actually won the conference that year.

“I redshirted my freshman year, and the got injured my sophomore year when I was supposed to play. So that was a setback and I had to get back into the game. Then I got Covid my third year, right before our first game. 

“Coach called me, and the protocol last year was probably a month long, so at that point I made the decision to transfer.” 

He began talking to a number of schools in his home state, the point at which UMHB entered the picture. Carroll spoke with a number of high school coaches from the Dallas area, which brought Feely to his attention. And when UMHB reached out, the opportunity caught Feely’s attention as well. 

“I had a couple of other people in the conference that called me, and then Coach Carroll [called],” Feely recalls. “He had talked to a coach I played against in my district, and my brother’s private school coach. We went on a visit in March, and I really liked the campus and the coaching staff.”

So as he suited up for his first collegiate game, despite being three years removed from high school, on Nov. 9 of this year, he was unable to truly put into words what the simple opportunity presented. 

“It definitely was [emotional],” Feely said later of the Southwestern season opener. “It was fun to get back out there. I really like playing with these guys and it was a good atmosphere for the first game, with toy toss and all the people there.” 

In that contest, Feely scored UMHB’s 100th point of the game, as part of a seven-point, four-rebound effort that also saw him play a few minutes alongside his brother, Trent, a freshman for the Cru. 

“I’m four years older than him, so we haven’t ever gotten any time [playing on the same team], except when we were younger,” Feely said of playing with Trent. “It’s nice to have him on the team. I think he’s going to be really good on defense. That’s one of his keys. He’s just got to get a little more confidence.” 

Confidence was an area Carroll worked with the elder Feely on entering the season as well. 

“I know he’s a stud, we’re just waiting for him to break out,” Carroll said of Feely prior to the Cru’s two games at the Classic in late December. “I’ve been trying all year to build confidence in him, because I know what kind of player he can be.” 

It did not take long for Feely to “break out”. Over the course of those two victories in Las Vegas, he tallied 12 points and 17 rebounds, leading the team on the boards in each contest, and his progress has not slowed as No. 22 UMHB prepares for an ASC duel at Ozarks on Thursday night. 

But beyond the stat sheet, Feely prides himself in being a player with incredible aggressiveness and intensity, able to contribute in whatever role however the team might need him. 

“I would describe myself as a little bit of Draymond Green,” Feely said, referencing the current Golden State Warriors’ forward. “I try to do all the dirty work that goes unnoticed on the stat sheet. I try to contribute however I can to help the team.” 

“He fits so well with the other guys,” Carroll added. “He compliments Josiah [Johnson] and Ty [Prince] so well and gives us a third dimension. The way he attacks the boards is just special.” 

By this point the nerves have been replaced by confidence, and the emergence of Feely has benefitted the entire team. That is a fact that Carroll hopes will continue for the next two seasons that follow. 

“I think the butterflies are gone now, and that nervousness,” Carroll said. “He knows, ‘I can come in here and play.’ I think that’s been really good for him. You’re starting to see a more confident Luke and a kid that we feel like we have for this year and two more. He adds to that core group.” 

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