He pushes himself every day even though he's well aware that it is unlikely there are any starter's minutes available in the fall when he will be a freshman guard for the University of Florida. He says he knows that the minutes will be hard to come by and every one of them will have to be earned, but that's why he's putting in all the work this summer. He plans to continue the hard work when he arrives in Gainesville on Sunday to begin freshman orientation for Summer B.
"Nobody's gonna give me anything," said the 6-4 guard out of Mitchell High School. "These guys are the national champions and they got all five starters and their top to bench guys coming back so I know that there aren't a lot of minutes there but I'm ready to earn my time. I'll work as hard as anybody and even if I only play one minute a game, the rest of the time I'll be learning. When I'm on the bench, I'll be learning. I'll be ready to play any time Coach says get in the game but even if I'm on the bench my heads gonna be in the game and I'm learning something."
When he was 13 years old and in the eighth grade, he wanted desperately to be a basketball player but by his own admission he wasn't very good. Yet he made the team and even though he was at the end of the bench he was like a sponge. He watched, his listened, he learned.
He's aware that he may have sort of a déjà vu of that year in Gainesville this year, not that he isn't a good basketball player now but just that the players ahead of him are experienced winners who have a national title under their collective belts.
"When I was 13 and I wasn't all that good all I did was listen to everything the coach told me and watched everything that went on in the games and then I worked harder than everyone else," he said. "Just because you're sitting doesn't mean you can't be learning. You study guys, you learn what they do and then you practice it yourself. You listen what the coach says and know what you're gonna do when you get in the game."
From that year when he wasn't all that good to his senior year at Mitchell, Powell's game was in constant evolution. He transformed himself into a player that a lot of experts believe has his best years ahead of him. His senior year he averaged 20 points, five rebounds and four assists per game on a team that finished second in the state of Tennessee and had three Division I signees.
He came alive offensively as a senior while still maintaining his reputation as a lock down defender on the wing.
"You may not always be able to score but you can always play some D," said Powell, whose nickname is "Straightjacket" because he puts the jacket on whomever it is he's defending. "I love playing defense. I love shutting someone down early and then getting into his head so the rest of the game he's thinking more about what I'm gonna do than what he's supposed to do."
He had a season-high seven steals in one game as a senior, doing most of the damage by playing the passing lane where his long, tentacle-like arms make him a formidable obstacle.
"Playing the passing lanes means you gotta have some gambler in you," he said. "I like the way Allen Iverson does it. I think he's the best I've seen at timing his move and getting into the lane to steal the ball and break away. I try to disrupt when I'm playing the passing lane."
He knows the defense at this level is going to be tougher than it was at the high school level which means he's got to step up his game on both ends of the court. He's always had a good spot-up shot that's good all the way to the three-point line but he's been working hard on his ball handling to make sure he'll be better at creating his own shots off the dribble. There's an added benefit to the improved ball handling. He wants to make himself available as a backup to Florida point guard Taurean Green. He's got the quickness already to handle the position.
Defensively, he knows the players he will be going against in the SEC are bigger, stronger and quicker than he's faced so he's pushed himself harder than ever before when it comes to conditioning. He's also watched hours and hours of video of the Gators, trying to familiarize himself with the Florida offense but also trying to gain an understanding of the defensive principles the Gators like to apply. Florida only allowed one team to score more than 62 points over the last 11 games of the season on the way to the NCAA championship so he knows that's where the Gators put their first emphasis.
"I want to be ready when I get there," he said. "I'm going to be playing with the NCAA champions and they know so much more than I know. I'm going to learn from all of them. Whatever they do, I'll be doing it. Whatever they're learning, I'm going to learn, too. They won it all. These guys know something. I'm there to work hard and earn my minutes but I'm there to learn when I'm sitting on the bench."
Powell is proud to be the first male in his family ever to earn a high school diploma and the first person from his family ever to have a chance to go to college. He worked hard as a senior to improve academically and prepare himself to handle college level courses. He also got a qualifying score on the ACT so he will be good to go from the moment he arrives in Gainesville.
"I'm proud of what I've done," he said. "Now it's time for the next part of my life. I'm going to go play basketball for the national champions. I'm going to go to college where I can get a great education."
"Udonis and JWill are Gators and now they got rings in the NBA," he said. "Florida's got to be a good place to be."