Pac-12 Senior Days: UCLA’s Norman Powell

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 4th, 2015

I sat down to write a post about Norman Powell and had no idea what to say. After 10 minutes of staring at a blank Word document, I started to think about taking the easy way out and just throwing a bunch of links to videos and Vines of Powell attacking the rim and finishing in a variety of spellbinding ways. But that would be taking the easy way out, something Powell never did in his four years at UCLA. So instead of getting to spend a few minutes geeking out on dunks and twisting, merry-go-round finishes, you’ve got to read my blather for a few hundred words. And you’ve got Powell to thank for that.

Norman Powell Has Been UCLA's Heart and Soul For Four Years (Associated Press)

Norman Powell Has Been UCLA’s Heart and Soul For Four Years. (Associated Press)

Think back on your favorite Bruins in the past decade or so, whether you count yourself as a UCLA fan or just a fan of college basketball. Guys like Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Arron Afflalo, Jordan Farmar, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are the names that likely come to mind. One thing all those players have in common is that none ever saw their own Senior Day. Now, let’s be clear; I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. But there is something special about a senior’s growth that occurs over four years — about the dedication and drive you need to begin something as difficult as being a student-athlete and seeing it through to the very end. And there is something special about seeing a guy like Powell come down the stretch and lift his game to a higher level in pursuit of righteously closing out that career.

When he rolled into town fresh out of Lincoln High School in San Diego (the same high school that produced NFL legend Marcus Allen), Powell figured he’d be in and out of Westwood in a year, maybe two at the worst. He’d step into a wing spot vacated by Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt; play like the second coming of Russell Westbrook under Ben Howland; the Bruins would advance deep into the NCAA Tournament; and his quickness and athleticism would have NBA scouts beating down his door. Let’s just say that Powell’s freshman season did not go as planned. Playing in front of sparse Sports Arena crowds while Pauley Pavilion was being renovated, the Bruins were a soap opera headlined by names like Reeves Nelson, Josh Smith, Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson. And Powell? He was an erratic reserve who earned a generous 17.8 minutes per game and averaged fewer than five points per night. Needless to say, the NBA was not in his immediate future.

Now, let’s skip through two straight NCAA Tournament appearances with guys like Anderson, Adams, the Wear twins and Shabazz Muhammad grabbing the spotlight. Let’s also skip through the changing of the guard when Howland was fired and Steve Alford took over. Let’s skip past rumors of Powell considering the possibility of a transfer out of the program. Let’s skip through a breakout junior campaign when those NBA scouts whose attention he coveted began to take notice again. Let’s skip through the first four games of his senior season when he destroyed overmatched opponents on his way to better than 20 points per game. And let’s skip past non-conference disasters against Oklahoma, North Carolina, Alabama, and the nadir against Kentucky. Let’s instead pause briefly to catch Powell against Oregon in mid-February as he takes the ball around his back and between his legs while splitting two defenders, gets into the lane and throws down a thunderous dunk, because, really, you’ll remember this kind of play in five years when you think back on him.

Then let’s jump right ahead to last Sunday night, a nondescript home game against Washington State in Powell’s second-to-last game at Pauley Pavilion. An NCAA Tournament berth was still on the line, but the Bruins were playing down to their opponent, barely keeping their heads above water. UCLA had gone without scoring a field goal for almost the first four minutes of the second half when Powell got free for a layup off a Bryce Alford steal. Over the course of the final 16 minutes of that game, Powell got to the rack time after time after time — nine times in the final 16 minutes, actually. He was fouled twice; dropped a dime to Tony Parker another time. Five other times he breaks for layups or dunks at the rim, three of them makes. Sure, there are some turnovers mixed in there as Powell shifts into hyper-aggressive, attack-everything mode. But at the same time, there are also rebounds and forced turnovers and challenged shots and all manner of terrific defensive plays. In short, Powell, the team’s senior leader, had no intention of letting his team go down to an inferior opponent on his watch.

Tonight, Powell will play his last regular season game as a UCLA Bruin. He’ll get a fond sendoff from the Pauley Pavilion crowd (please fans, make an effort to get to the game early and give Powell the props he deserves); he’ll get hugs from his family and his teammates; and then he’ll go out there and bust his ass to make sure that he finishes his UCLA career with five straight wins over USC. With more to come next week in Las Vegas. Should everything work out there, UCLA will get shipped off across the country to God-knows-where to play in the NCAA Tournament. Whenever all of that ends, then, and only then, will Powell readjust his gaze to the NBA. After four years of hard work and improvement, he will have earned his spot.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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One response to “Pac-12 Senior Days: UCLA’s Norman Powell”

  1. MajorDanby says:

    Darren Collison played 4 years in UCLA.

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