It could be Powell's swan song

Hearing different beat, Syracuse great weighs shot at another stage

Ncaa Lacrosse Final Four

College Lacrosse

May 26, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

If you love lacrosse, if you respect its history and if you admire the innovators who have pushed the sport's boundaries, then make it a point this Memorial Day weekend to watch Syracuse attackman Michael Powell against Johns Hopkins in the NCAA semifinals.

It just might be your last chance to see one of the game's greatest players.

Powell, you see, is burned out. Because of lacrosse, he became a celebrity before he became a teenager. He picked up a stick at age 5 and, by the time he was 12, he was signing autographs.

For years, he has been regarded as one of the most exciting and creative players in the game. He is Syracuse's all-time leading scorer with 297 points, and he has been called the Michael Jordan of lacrosse.

The Bayhawks have already come out and said publicly they plan to take the 22-year-old Powell with the first pick in Major League Lacrosse's draft on June 3.

Powell, however, has other ideas. He said yesterday that when the final four is over, he might hang up his stick. He said he wants to move on, wants to write music and play the guitar, and wants to show people there's more to Michael Powell than three-goal games and highlight-reel passes.

"I really don't think I'm going to play professionally," Powell says. "I've pretty much decided. I'm definitely going to take this summer off. ... I'm not so sure that playing competitively is something I want to do anymore."

Is Powell serious? Would he really walk away from the sport? Or, is he bluffing - pulling a move similar to what Eli Manning did with the Chargers and John Elway did with the Colts - trying to send a message to the Bayhawks not to draft him?

His older brothers, Casey and Ryan, both played for the MLL team in Rochester, N.Y., last year, which just so happens to own the second pick in the draft.

Bayhawks general manager Jay Pivec said his team still plans to select Powell, but John Algie, the MLL's director of lacrosse operations, said Powell didn't respond by Monday's deadline to an invitation to play in the 2004 Warrior Major League Challenge, an all-star game featuring the top 40 seniors that serves as a showcase for MLL teams.

Is it possible that the youngest and most talented of the three Powell brothers is trying to manipulate the system?

No, Powell said. He just wants to focus on his other passion for now. Performing in front of a crowd, singing lyrics he has labored over, is a different kind of rush.

He went to a David Byrne concert recently, and it was so good, so intimate, he said, it only reinforced in him how much he wants to give music a chance. When he's on stage, he's not burdened by anything, unlike when he steps onto the lacrosse field.

"It's very different," Powell says. "No one expects much out of me [when I'm singing], and I think that helps keep me relaxed. In lacrosse, everyone expects me to score a lot, and that can't always happen."

Throughout Powell's career, he has put the ball in the net so often, he has tried to find new ways to keep the fans - and himself - entertained.

In a 17-10 win over Massachusetts in May, he scored six goals, but it was the shot he didn't convert that people are still talking about.

In the closing minutes, Powell got the ball on an in-bounds play, jogged a few steps, did a front flip and, as he landed, fired a shot on goal. The ball deflected out of bounds, but for days, it was the talk of the lacrosse world for better or for worse.

"I used to do a lot of that stuff in high school," said Powell. "I really liked the rush it gave me before the move. UMass kind of took [the flip] as an insult, and a lot of lacrosse fans looked at it like I was showboating, but I don't see it that way. ... In order for the sport to grow, I think someone needs to come along and do some things that no one has ever seen before."

Even if Powell has blurred the line between hot-dogging and envelope-pushing, most people agree he's exactly what lacrosse needs if it hopes to attract larger audiences.

"He's as dominant a lacrosse player that has played the game in a number of years," said Virginia coach Dom Starsia. "Sometimes, I think you'd like to reel him in a little, and he would probably drive me nuts from time to time if I was his coach, but he plays the game with such a great joy and such creativity."

Even Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala admits there is no real strategy for shutting Powell down if he gets the ball. The Blue Jays held Powell scoreless for just the second time in his career March 20 in a 17-5 win, but Powell hardly touched the ball because the Orange lost 20 of 24 faceoffs.

"Thankfully, I don't have to know what's its like to defend him," said Pietramala, who is widely regarded as the best defenseman in lacrosse history.

"I'm not sure I could have. He's an unbelievable player, one of the more special guys to come around in a long time."

Powell is a walking contradiction. One minute he says he'd like to help the sport grow, that he'd like to be the same kind of creative force for lacrosse that Tony Hawk was for skateboarding, But the next, he's talking about walking away from everything, about playing music and writing a perfect song. He could go either way right now.

"Walking around Syracuse, I get recognized sometimes, and that's nice," Powell said. "But a lot of people just call me `Powell.' Nobody knows me as `Mike.' I think with music, I'm trying to prove that there is more to me than lacrosse."

Sun staff writer Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.


Tournament data

What: NCAA men's lacrosse final four

Where: M&T Bank Stadium

Saturday's semifinals: Navy (14-2) vs. Princeton (11-3), 11:30 a.m.; Johns Hopkins (13-1) vs. Syracuse (13-2), 2 p.m.

Monday's title game: 2:30 p.m.

TV: Semifinals on ESPN2; final on ESPN

Tickets: 410-261-7283

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