CHAMPAIGN — Andres Feliz can draw a comparison to his first season at Illinois and his freshman year at Northwest Florida State College. Mostly, it was about how comfortable — and therefore confident — the 6-foot-2 guard felt on the basketball court.
Both were a work in progress. Feliz played a key role at Northwest Florida State as a freshman, but his production paled in comparison to what he was able to do as a sophomore. Last year with the Illini? Feliz was, for all intents and purposes, Illinois’ sixth man and took about half the season to truly settle into that role (and Big Ten play).
Feliz rediscovered his confidence in the second half of last season, and that’s carried over into Illinois’ summer workouts. It’s also helped shape how he’s worked on his game in the offseason.
“The experience,” Feliz said was the difference this offseason for him. “I already have the experience from last year. Now I know what to expect from the summer. Still the same hard work. I’ve just got to put my time in and focus mentally and physically, and everything will be all right.
“I think I’ve got more confidence. I’ve been here for a year now. I know the staff, and I know the guys now. I feel more comfortable just working out with them and getting better together. It feels much better because now you don’t feel like a stranger. You don’t show up and not know anybody. I’m just working out with my brothers.”
Feliz’s focus this spring and summer has been precise. He showed last season he could be a threat attacking the basket and had the physicality to finish around the rim better than most of the Illini guards. Now he’s putting in work on his mid-range game and three-point shooting.
Feliz attempted just 37 three-pointers in 2018-19 and shot 27 percent from beyond the arc. Again, there’s a parallel to his time at Northwest Florida State where he went from a 19.1 percent three-point shooter as a freshman to a 41.8 percent three-point shooter as a sophomore.
“I think it’s the confidence,” Feliz said. “I shot the same way my freshman year in JUCO. My sophomore year, I got more confident and put more time on it and was working on it. I feel the same way. Last year I didn’t have that confidence since I was new on the team.
“But now this year I have more confidence and this coaching staff has put more trust in me and see me working on it. I think I will feel more comfortable taking the three this year.”
Adding “shooter” back to his basketball résumé would round out Feliz’s game. The combination of fearless drives to the basket and the ability to pull up from the perimeter turned him into the No. 12 overall JUCO recruit — and No. 1 point guard — in 2018.
“That’s going to help me and open up my game more,” Feliz said. “That’s going to help me develop to the next level, too. If you saw my numbers from my sophomore year in JUCO, that was the difference. I was more of a threat from the three-point line and going to the basket. That’s what made me dangerous. I was pulling from three. I was going to the basket. I was using my mid-range. That’s something I would like to bring back to my game here.”
Feliz maintaining that confidence he found at the midway point of the 2018-19 season will help, too. He sees that as the “right path” heading into his final season of college basketball.
“I think I increased my opportunity in getting on the floor making the hustle play and doing everything for the team,” Feliz said. “That’s my mentality this year. I don’t have more chances after this. That’s going to be everything I’m going to leave out on the floor for the Illini.”
Making an impact
The majority of junior college transfers wind up helping low- or mid-major teams, but a few — like Illinois’ Andres Feliz — make an impact at the high major level. These five did so last season:
DJ Funderburk, N.C. State
The former Ohio State big man teamed up with Feliz in 2017-18 at Northwest Florida State before helping the Wolfpack reach the NIT quarterfinals last season. The 6-foot-10 forward averaged 8.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks.
Mason Jones, Arkansas
One season at Connors State (Okla.) College laid the groundwork for the 6-5 guard to break into Mike Anderson’s lineup last season. Jones started 26 games and averaged 13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists for the Razorbacks.
Kylor Kelley, Oregon State
The Oregon native and Lane (Ore.) transfer led the Pac-12 and finished second in the nation last season with 3.4 blocked shots per game. The 7-footer also averaged 7.7 points and five rebounds in his first season with the Beavers.
Wendell Mitchell, Texas A&M
Mitchell wound up helping another Texas team after joining the Aggies following a year apiece at Baylor and then Trinity Valley (Texas). The 6-3 point guard ran the A&M offense and put up 13 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.
Jared Wilson-Frame, Pittsburgh
Another former Northwest Florida State standout, Wilson-Frame finished his college career with the Panthers last season. The 6-5 swingman started 17 of 32 games for Jeff Capel and averaged 12.7 points while shooting 39.5 percent from three-point range.