The Contra Costa Times has an article on Leon Powe today. They discuss his first season in the NBA and the differences between the college game and the NBA game.
Along the way, Powe found out what it's like to be a professional athlete. He said the differences between college and the NBA are not that dramatic on the court. It's off the court where the adjustment lies. "You have to watch who and what is around you," Powe said. "Some people might not have the right intentions or might try to sell you something that isn't legit. It's happened to me a couple of times." Powe is perpetually upbeat, so he welcomed the challenge of the pro game. His explanation is simple: "I like to play basketball."
In case you aren't aware of all that Powe has gone through in his life to get to where he is at, here is a little background. This kid has had a rough life and has come through it a strong person and a gritty basketball player. His dad left the family when he was only 2. At seven, Powe's younger brother, Timothy, accidentally burned down the family's duplex while playing with matches. His mother struggled with the burdens of raising the family and was arrested for theft, fraud and drug possession. Leon missed almost his entire fifth grade year...caring for his siblings. Shortly after the fire his mother, Connie Landry, lost custody of her five kids, who were put into foster care.
“The best part,” Powe said, “was it taught me to cherish anything you have, always work hard and don’t take anything for granted. The worst part was every day having to see my mom struggle a little bit. That wasn’t easy for me, and I couldn’t do nothing about it.”
During his junior year in high school, Powe’s mother died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 41, just days before he was to play for the state title. Despite the family’s troubles, he remained close with her and the loss weighed heavily upon his performance. With his mother's death less than a week behind him, Powe poured in nineteen points and grabbed ten rebounds against No. 1-ranked Westchester High School of Los Angeles. To make things worse, only weeks later, he ripped the ACL in his left knee while playing in an AAU tournament in Houston. This is an injury that might have stopped a lot of people, but Powe worked hard on rehab and went on to Cal.
Bouncing back after the surgery, Powe had a great freshmen season. After averaging over 15 points and a conference-leading nine rebounds, he was named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and earned all-conference honors. In his freshman year, his gpa dipped below 2.0 and he was forced to sit out several games. Showing just what kind of determination he has, he improved his gpa to a 3.5 by his junior year.
Unfortunately, Powe’s good fortune did not last long. After the season, he had not one, but two surgeries. The first was a bone graft intended to relieve the pain that still existed from his ACL tear, and the second was another reconstruction when the knee failed to respond. It was three major surgeries on the same knee in the span of about two years.
After the knee surgeries, he returned to Cal and became a dominant force, averaging 20.5 point per game and 10.1 rebounds per game, becoming only the 6th player ever to lead the conference in both categories and was named a second team All American.
A stress fracture in his right foot sidelined him for the first two weeks his last season at Cal, but he refused to get discouraged. He recovered to average 20.5 points and 10.1 rebounds in 2005-06, becoming only the sixth player to lead the Pac-10 in both categories. He was also one of just three players in the nation to average a double-double.
After being drafted by the Celtics in the second round of last season's draft, Powe had several options with that first paycheck he received from the Celtics. He could have spent it on a car or a house, or maybe he could have saved it for the future. Whatever the option, it would have been easy for Powe to justify doing something for himself.
Instead, Powe decided to host the inaugural Team Powe Basketball Camp last summer at Merritt College. The all-day camp was free to kids' ages 7 through 18 and attracted well over 100 participants.
Powe still doesn't splurge on much for himself. With the help of his unofficial guardian, Bernard Ward, Powe met with a financial advisor to set up a monthly spending allowance. He still tries to help his siblings out and makes sure that they have what they need. Powe is very loyal to his simple roots and lives very simply. Ward had to encourage Powe to buy a watch because he didn't own one.
Powe also believes he should use his position to get involved in the community. As a Cal student, he talked to children about the importance of education. He's doing the same thing in Boston. Cook (Leon's girlfriend) is as well, working in an after-school program for underprivileged kids.
Powe is going to spend most of this month in the Bay Area, and he is planning more charitable work while he is here.
"He feels like it's his job to give back to the community," Ward said. "He wants to talk to kids because he knows he can teach them. He feels like it's a big responsibility. Leon is the same guy he always was -- so humble, so down to earth."
The article also says that Powe is certain that he is a big part of the Celtics future and is determined to come back next season even better and more prepared. I hope so because I think it would be a huge mistake to let this kid go. His contract was guaranteed only for one season. The second year ($687,456) would have become guaranteed if he appeared in 41 games and if his average of points + rebounds + assists totals at least 14 per game. In his first season, Powe appeared in 63 games and he averaged 4.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and .2 assists in 11 minutes per game. The total of points, rebounds and assists for his first year was only 7.8, well short of the required 14. But, it wasn't for lack of effort that he didn't reach the required totals. Powe played hard and gave his all every minute he was on the court. Doc played him in 3-4 minute stints for the most part and it was amazing that he produced what he did with the way he got his minutes in spurts and the way Doc used him in games. When he actually got playing time, he produced every time. In games where he got at least 25 minutes playing time he averaged almost a double double. The Celtics have to pick up his option before July 1 in order to keep him. If they don't, he will be placed on waivers just as Orien Greene was last season and another team can claim him. The Herald said that they expect Powe to play in the summer league and that bodes well as they would have to pick up his option for that to happen since the Summer League is in July.
His nickname in high school and college was "The Show." That is a great nickname, but the players on last season's Celtics' Summer League team gave him a new nickname: "The Grown Man" because he is built like a Mack truck and is very mature for his age. I guess going through all the adversity has made him wise beyond his years as well as a very strong and gritty player. You have to pull for a kid who has gone through so much and yet has seemed to rise above it all. He is determined to make teams pay for passing on him in the draft.... Somehow I believe he will. I just hope he will do it while playing for the Celtics.
Sometimes I wonder if my view of Powe is distorted because I like his attitude and approach so much. Tommy Heinsohn's constant praise might contribute as well. That said I like his game more than Allan Ray's. I also wonder if Powe will ever really get a chance to perform. We'll see. Nice YouTube clip too.