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Posted on Tue, Jul. 06, 2004
GOING PRO: Unhappy at North Carolina State, forward Josh Powell was an early entry for the NBA draft a year ago. AL DIAZ/HERALD STAFF
GOING PRO: Unhappy at North Carolina State, forward Josh Powell was an early entry for the NBA draft a year ago. AL DIAZ/HERALD STAFF


Heat prospect willing to handle a risky career move

Trying for the second time to stick on an NBA roster, Heat prospect Josh Powell hopes his decision to leave college early will prove to be a wise one.

Scan the Heat's Summer League roster and you'll find players with all kinds of stories concerning their entry into the league.

There's Darius Rice, whose four years at the University of Miami probably were a few too many, hurting his status in the eyes of NBA executives.

There's Matt Freije, who improved each of his four years in college, earning him the No. 53 spot in the draft.

There's Dorell Wright, who skipped college and became a first-round pick based on his potential.

Then there's Josh Powell.

He fell somewhere between the others, caught in the middle of potential and primed. Not quite young enough to be measured strictly by ''upside,'' not quite polished enough to be considered a finished product.

He's 21, a year removed from his brief stay at North Carolina State and trying for the second time to stick on an NBA roster. So far, he's fodder for every college coach who wants to convince underclassmen to stay in school.

But by the time this summer is over, Powell hopes his decision to leave college after only two years will prove to be a wise one.

''Nobody forced me to make the decision I made,'' said Powell, a 6-9 player with the versatility to play both forward positions. 'Nobody said, `Oh, you can be drafted,' or anything. I made the decision on my own. Whether it was a mistake or a good thing, it was part of being a man and growing up.''

It seems curious that a player whose draft status was so unclear would risk his final two years of eligibility for a chance at NBA stardom. But sometimes these decisions aren't as simple as figuring out draft positions and calculating future earnings.

Powell was willing to take his chances because any setting would be more comfortable than the one at N.C. State.


Powell, from Riverdale, Ga., went to N.C. State only because his mother and stepfather preferred the school. If he had followed his heart, Powell would have attended Georgia Tech, where then-coach Bobby Cremins was churning out NBA players almost every year.

Powell says he entered N.C. State with an open mind, but he never felt like the program had its priorities in order. Though Powell never mentioned the player by name, it seemed to him that the team was catering to blue-chipper Julius Hodge, and Powell was taking the lumps that came with it.

''Say you have a big-name player, and at the school it's all about this guy, but you've got other players with potential, or even what they already do is more productive,'' Powell said. 'We just had a lot of stuff going on with the team internally that wasn't positive for us. At one point in time I was about to say, `I don't want to play basketball anymore.' And I knew I shouldn't be feeling like this.''

So, after his sophomore year -- and after scoring 26 points in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title game and earning all-tournament honors -- Powell declared for the draft, with no guarantees he would be selected.

Initially, it looked like he made the right choice. Powell's predraft workouts went well, and he drew interest from the Heat.

But after Miami selected Jerome Beasley with the No. 33 pick, Powell realized his chances were slim.

''I stopped watching it after like [No.] 35,'' Powell said. 'My family was like, `It's OK,' and they started praying for me.''

Powell landed on the Dallas Mavericks' Summer League roster and was invited to the team's veteran camp. He was the last cut after he declined an unprecedented six-year, nonguaranteed contract.

He then spent two weeks in Russia before landing on an Italian Superleague team, for which he averaged 14.1 points and 8.3 rebounds.

All the while, the Heat kept a close eye on him.

''He's very athletic, he's a very good rebounder,'' Heat general manager Randy Pfund said. ``We think he's a little more of a [small forward] because he shoots the ball pretty well from three-point range.

``I just think he's one of those guys who will eventually be in our league. It's just a matter of whether you can fit him in on your roster and what you have.''


It would seem the Heat, which is overloaded with players who can play both forward positions, is an improper fit for Powell. But with Lamar Odom playing his best at power forward and Rasual Butler now projected as a shooting guard, there is an opening for someone to play behind Caron Butler at small forward.

That's where Powell, a freakish athlete with a quality low-post game, hopes to slide in. Heat assistant coach Bob McAdoo, who is running the Summer League team, likes what he has seen of Powell.

''Josh has been a pleasant surprise,'' McAdoo said. ``I like his aggressiveness. His outside shot is not all the way there yet, but we can possibly get him in a mismatch. He is really a battler down low, he runs good on the break and he's our best rebounder right now in camp.''

A year later, Powell's decision to leave school is looking less questionable.

''I made that decision and I'm living with it,'' he said. ``I don't regret it because I've learned a lot and I've grown as a person. I won't trade it in for anything else.''

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