Myles Powell shook his head. No, even he couldn’t have dreamed of this three years ago.
Becoming an NBA prospect? Seton Hall’s first preseason Associated Press All-American? The Big East preseason Player of the Year and unquestioned leader for a program gunning for its fifth straight NCAA Tournament berth?
None of it.
“I would’ve just laughed,” he said.
The Trenton native wouldn’t have been the only one.
Powell arrived at Seton Hall in the spring of 2016 out of shape and not ready to play big-time college basketball. He was 240 pounds, looking every bit like someone who had earned the nickname “Cheese.” In his first individual workout, he lasted just 15 minutes. Strength and conditioning coach Jason Nehring dubbed him “Butterball.”
Three years later, the 6-foot-2 Powell is the picture of perseverance, set to become the first player from his family to graduate college and 831 points shy of the Seton Hall all-time scoring mark owned by Terry Dehere (2,494). His decision to return to school for his senior season set the program up for its most anticipated season in nearly two decades, a preseason No. 12 ranking and the Big East coaches’ pick to win the league.
“I’d say it’s almost like one of those quotes you read in a book,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “If you don’t give up on your dreams and you combine that with hard work, anything’s possible.”
In the past year, so much has changed for Powell. After taking a back seat to Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez his first two seasons, he exploded last year, averaging 23.1 points per game and emerging as the face of the program — keying upsets of Kentucky, Maryland and Villanova. He carried Seton Hall to the NCAA Tournament despite being picked to finish eighth in the Big East. He tested the NBA draft waters, working out for five teams before opting to return to school.
“He can score. He guards people. He’ll accept any physical challenge that comes his way.” — ESPN analyst Jay Bilas
Already, 12 teams have been in to see him. One NBA scout believes he has a good chance to get drafted if he continues to improve as a playmaker and score as he did a year ago.
“I’m a huge fan of his,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “He can score. He guards people. He’ll accept any physical challenge that comes his way.”
As Powell’s career has taken off, he’s also been dealing with personal anguish. His older brother Noel was indicted on a charge of murder, for allegedly shooting a man at an Applebee’s restaurant in Lawrence, N.J., on Nov. 14, 2017, and is still awaiting trial. Powell frequently writes about him on social media, using the hashtag “FreeBigNutty.” He wears a bracelet with those words on it.
“Everything I’m going through just matured me. It made me a better person on and off the court,” he said. “It just made me cherish life a lot more.”
Powell hopes to be a role model, for kids dealing with weight problems, for those from tough inner-city neighborhoods like him, to his six younger siblings. Though he put everything into basketball, he never forgot about school, maintaining a 3.25 grade-point-average in the classroom. He will earn a degree in social and behavioral sciences. Finishing what he started academically was one of the reasons he returned for his senior season. The NBA, he said, wasn’t going anywhere. He had other responsibilities to care of.
“It means the world that I can give this diploma to my mom,” he said. “For me and my family to be able to say I’m the first one, can’t nobody take that away from me. And most importantly, all the young guys and females in my family, I can tell them if I can do it, you can do it.”
Powell loved making anything into a sandwich. He would crush fast foods of all kinds and top it off with soda and ice cream. Still, he was a quality prospect because of his shot-making prowess. He was a four-star recruit ranked No. 81 in the country by 247Sports.com, a ranking lowered by him putting on significant weight after suffering a broken foot his senior year of high school.
Shortly after arriving on campus, Powell knew a change was in order if he wanted to last. Nehring told him he would call him Myles only once he got down to 210 pounds. They worked closely together, early mornings and late nights, setting weekly goals. They changed his diet, switching to salads, fish and pasta.
“It was hard; it was a struggle,” Powell recalled. “But I had it in my mind of what I wanted to be, and I just kept going, kept fighting.”
Powell got down to 195 pounds by the start of freshman year, his weight presently. Last year, he played at under 10 percent body fat. Right now, he is under 8 percent. Recently, a friend posted on social media before-and-after photos of Powell when he arrived at Seton Hall and now. Teammate Sandro Mamukelashvili thought it was doctored.
“No way that’s real,” the junior told him.
Off the court, teammates and coaches rave about Powell the person — as the last player on the court signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans, as someone who will give his sneakers to kids. On the court, he is the team’s clear leader, the Pirates’ heartbeat who will get into a teammate’s face when needed. He always is around in time of need.
“Everybody looks up to him,” Mamukelashvili said. “His heart is humongous.”
His work ethic has set the standard for others. He often is in the gym early in the morning and late at night. Everyone knows where to find him. The same way he lost
all that weight is the same way he has improved every season on the court, going from a spot-up shooter to one of the premier guards in the country. All these accolades won’t go to his head, Powell insists. He still remembers not making the Big East all-freshman team his first season, still agonizes over past March shortcomings.
“I know how I got to be the player I am today, and I’m not going to let everything that’s happening let me forget that,” he said. “If I was to stop doing that, only person I’m kidding is myself.”
The future is so bright for Powell, brighter than anyone could have reasonably expected. He will graduate school in the spring. He will then achieve a lifelong dream of being a professional basketball player and be able to support his family. His bank account will be adding a lot of zeroes.
“I’m so close,” he said.
But as he did four years ago, Powell isn’t looking too far ahead. His focus is on the upcoming season, making it a year nobody in South Orange will forget, leading his school back to the Sweet 16. When asked what he dreams about, Powell didn’t even mention the NBA.
“I want to leave a legacy at Seton Hall and I want to be remembered for something special,” he said. “I want to be able to win a Big East championship. I want to win a couple of games in the tournament. I want to make a run.
“I want to be a Pirate that everybody remembers.”
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