For any 5-foot-8 athlete, dunking a basketball on a 10-foot hoop seems impossible. In every game, she has tried and failed, but she is improving little by little. Felder has worked hard to become the player she is today. In the last year, Felder has shown substantial growth.
When Felder came to Athens, she was shy and reserved and wasn't expected to contribute as a freshman. Only a year later, she is Ohio's vocal leader and the MAC's leading scorer in the 2022-23 season.
Although Felder wasn't expected to take on a significant role in her freshman season, she's always had talent. In high school, her athleticism and basketball IQ allowed her to make plays other players couldn't. Felder finished her high school career as the all-time leading scorer at Conard High School and was named to the all-state team twice.
As Felder transitioned from high school basketball to Division I college basketball, her chances at playing time looked slim. Felder sat behind two All-MAC players, Erica Johnson and Cece Hooks at the guard positions. An Ohio team that returned almost all its starters and some of its bench contributors didn't seem to have an opportunity for Felder.
COVID-19 absences and injuries to players opened a spot for Felder to get serious playing time. Felder was anxious about making the most of her chance and wanted to be more communicative with her teammates. As the year went on, Felder's positional versatility and athleticism made her the team's first option off the bench, and she was often in the starting lineup.
Felder's confidence grew, and in the final 12 games of the season, Felder averaged 11.7 points per game, including three 20-point games. Felder was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing season for the Bobcats, who were defeated in the first round of the MAC Tournament.
In the off-season, Ohio lost nearly all its contributors to either graduation or the transfer portal. Felder quickly went from a solid role player in her freshman year to the focal point of Ohio's offense. She was only a sophomore and one of the team's most experienced players.
Jack Tatham | For The Post
Ohio University's Yaya Felder (2) shoots a free throw against Central Michigan University at the Convocation Center on February 18, 2023.
Felder knew the responsibility that she was dealing with and worked hard to improve her game in the off-season. Felder worked to become a better shooter, ball handler and driver as Ohio's new starting point guard.
According to Felder, however, her most important development was as a leader. The shy freshman who walked Ohio's campus couldn't take Ohio where it needed to be. And with a slew of young contributors on Ohio's team, Felder had to step up.
"I think I became more of a leader (this year)," Felder said. "I'm talking more, and I'm (present), and I felt like I wasn't there last year, I was still shy."
With a very young roster and a lot of fresh faces, the Bobcats struggled to come up with wins early in the season. But the work Felder put in the offseason was apparent; she scored 21 points in a loss to one of the nation's best teams, Ohio State. Felder backed that performance up with a 26-point performance in the next game against IUPUI.
Felder ramped up her offensive excellence in MAC play and even made history with a 40-point performance against Central Michigan. Felder became just the third player in Ohio women's basketball history to score 40 points in a single game.
Felder's improvements have provided a headache for defenses. Her quick first step allows her to get past defenders at will, and her improvements as a shooter mean defenses can't leave her open from the beyond the arc.
Most recently, many teams' solution has been to force the ball out of Felder's hands with traps or double teams, but Felder's basketball IQ and knack for finding open teammates is a threat to the opposition.
"I think about getting my teammates involved first," Felder said. "Because making them a threat, makes the defense fall back against me. So now I can be able to do what I have to do … "
In Ohio's game against Northern Illinois on Feb. 11, Felder put that philosophy into her game; she was a quiet scorer in the first three quarters but got her teammates involved to keep Ohio in a position to win the game. And in the fourth quarter, she took over with 15 points, including a game-winning layup.
Felder's massive leap from a solid, yet quiet, role player to Ohio's fearless leader and the only player in the MAC who is currently averaging more than 20 points per game begs the questions: What's next for Felder? Can she one day win MAC Player of the Year? Can she lead the Bobcats to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2015? Can she play in the WNBA? Can she achieve the impossible and finally dunk?
Felder thinks she’ll get there.
“I haven’t dunked yet,” Felder said with a smile on her face. “I feel like I’m going to get there.”