Loyola's Powell has pro scouts on trail Guard third in nation in scoring at 26.5

December 18, 1997|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

Mike Powell has always had a love for math and working with numbers.

The Washington native began his days at Loyola College as an accounting major, but has since switched to marketing. And these days, the Greyhounds senior guard and team captain is doing an excellent job of piling up numbers and selling himself as a candidate for the NBA.

A gifted scorer, Powell ranks No. 3 in the nation with his 26.5-point average, trailing only Charles Jones of Long Island University (31.0) and Wally Szczerbiak (27.1) of Miami of Ohio. His ability to slash to the hoop for acrobatic baskets and to convert 34 percent of his three-point attempts has guaranteed an audience of one or two pro scouts at Loyola's home games.

Asked about his sudden prominence, Powell said: "I try not to think about it. But this is a small campus, and people are always reminding me.

"Hopefully, the scoring is what has brought out the scouts. Playing in the NBA has been my lifelong dream. But I'm not just looking to score a lot of points. I want the scouts to see that I'm a complete player. If they see my work ethic, the ability to make the right play, hit the big shot and play solid defense, that should get me to the next level."

Loyola coach Dino Gaudio said: "Mike is the total package. He can create his own shot or come off a screen and hit the three. When he's double-teamed, he's a great passer and consistently finds the open man.

"But the most unappreciated part of his game is his defense. He had trouble shooting the ball [5-for-14] against Towson on Saturday, but he made two big stops in the last minute when he drew an offensive foul and deflected a pass out of bounds.

"When I was an assistant at Xavier, I had a hand in coaching Tyrone Hill, Derek Strong, Brian Grant and Aaron Williams, who are all playing in the NBA. Mike has both the talent and size [6 feet 3, 200 pounds] to play both guard positions. I give him a great chance to make it."

No Loyola player has attracted this much attention since 1989, when Mike Morrison was drafted by Phoenix and played briefly for the Suns and the Washington Bullets. But luring a player of Powell's caliber to the Evergreen campus was a matter of luck and coincidence.

The name Ellerbe keeps popping up in tracking Powell's journey from the playgrounds of Washington to the University of Virginia and finally to Loyola.

"It's ironic, but [former Loyola coach] Brian Ellerbe's brother coached me in a recreation league when I was 12 or 13," Powell recalled. "He'd always kid me that he was preparing me for Virginia, where Brian was an assistant."

When Powell graduated from Anacostia High as its all-time leading scorer (1,509), Virginia was one of some 40 schools bidding for his services.

"I heard from just about every major program," he said. "Virginia, Michigan, Duke and a number of Big East schools. My mother liked the Michigan coaches, Steve Fisher and Perry Watson. I got to meet the Fab Five on a campus visit. I was was ready to commit when they announced they signed Bobby Crawford, another point guard."

Powell then turned to Virginia, mostly a result of his familiarity with assistant coach Brian Ellerbe, now the coach at Michigan, who was a persistent suitor during Powell's senior year in high school.

Powell's career at Virginia started with promise. He was the first player off the bench in preseason scrimmages. But then everything turned sour.

"I began to feel weak and lose weight," he said. "I thought it was the flu, but it turned out to be meningitis. I was hospitalized for three weeks and lost close to 20 pounds. I was just a little, frail freshman."

By the time he recovered, Powell found himself buried on the depth chart behind Harold Deane, Cornell Parker and Jason Williford. He would be limited to less than six minutes a game, surfacing long enough to hit two winning free throws against Coppin State.

"I started questioning myself, but Coach [Jeff] Jones would always say that I'd be a great player in the [Atlantic Coast Conference] if I'd just keep practicing hard."

Reduced to a bench cheerleader by midseason, Powell was convinced his prospects were dim in Charlottesville, and he began seeking alternatives. Again, Ellerbe interceded.

"He told me to keep working hard on my game and in class, finish the year and then go looking," Powell recalled. "I stuck it out, and I got calls from Oklahoma and Arizona State. But I didn't want to go that far from home, and called Ellerbe for advice."

By this time, Ellerbe had been named coach at Loyola, but he had not tried to recruit Powell again.

"He never thought I'd come to Loyola. He told me just to go to a school where I'd feel comfortable with the coaches, get a chance to showcase my skills and get the exposure I needed to take me to the next level."

A few weeks later, Powell called Ellerbe again and asked, " 'What about Loyola?' The coach said, 'Are you sure?' and that's just how it happened."

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