Roger Powell is the player I classify as Lon Kruger's last recruit as Illinois' Head Coach even though Powell did not sign his Letter of Intent until after Lon left for the Atlanta Hawks. He committed to Illinois during January 1999, a full year and a half before signing his LOI. During Roger's freshman year he quickly became a player fans wanted to see on the court more and more. The tenacity with which he went after the basketball endeared Roger to Illini fans all across the nation. Unfortunately for Roger, he was playing behind players like Robert Archibald, Brian Cook, Lucas Johnson, and Damir Krupalija, so his time on the court was limited.
Roger started to see more time during his sophomore season, and last year Roger was a starter from the beginning of the season, and was Illinois' most consistent interior scorer. Despite being undersized for the position he was playing (power forward), Roger is a beast on the offensive glass. He uses his speed and quickness advantage over larger players to get to the basketball off the glass, and score on the quick put backs. In the flow of the offense, Roger was able to score via either the post or the mid-range face up. On defense, Roger was often times matched up against a player larger than him in both size and height, but Roger used his strength and quickness to keep the offensive player in front of him.
In what was a big shock to Illinois fans and even the coaching staff according to interviews Bruce Weber gave to the Champaign News-Gazette and ESPN.com, Roger declared for the 2004 NBA Draft earlier this spring. Roger's declaration may have been the most shocking thing I have witnessed while watching Illinois basketball in the last five years. Despite assuming that Roger was the third player, along with Dee and Deron, that Bruce Weber requested a draft status report on from the NBA scouts, I never would have guessed that Roger would actually have put his name in the draft. After not getting an invite to attend the Chicago Pre-Draft Camp, Roger made the announcement every one expected he would make: he was pulling his name from the draft and returning to the University of Illinois for his senior year.
The talk as to why Roger put his name in the draft centered on him wanting to get his name out there as a player NBA scouts should watch in the upcoming season. In theory, every junior in college basketball that can get from their campus to Chicago without incurring too much cost should declare for the draft because they have nothing to lose outside of the money spent. The NCAA allows a player to declare for the draft once during their college career and return to college by removing their name from the draft list. If a junior has not yet declared and can afford the travel costs to and from Chicago, they don't lose a thing by entering their name in the draft pool.
Roger Powell is Illinois' best offensive rebounder; he just has a nose for where the ball will land after it caroms off the rim. Roger uses his strength and quickness to get around defenders when they try to box him out and find a way to the basketball. When Roger scores off offensive rebounds, it is a huge benefit to the Illini half court offense. Roger's second chance points usually came at times the offense had run stagnant and Illinois was struggling to score.
The three statistics that normally tell the story of a basketball game are: second-chance points, free throw shooting, and three-point shooting. Roger on the offensive glass was a big factor for the Illini last season because the four to eight second chance points he would score translated into the Illini having the advantage in one of the key game turning statistics.
- If you had to pick one player on the Illini that scored the most points off loose balls, offensive rebounds, and broken plays it would have to be Roger Powell. Now, while this may sound like a bad thing, it is not at all. Roger is what I like to call a garbage scorer; Seth Davis from CNN/SI prefers the term Glue Guy. Roger does all the little hustle things on a basketball court that don't show up on the stat sheet, and because of his hustle he scores points from broken plays, offensive rebounds, and loose balls. Every great team has one player that scores in this manner. Hopefully Roger will continue to be Illinois' garbage scorer.
Since he is normally shorter than the man defending him, Roger needs to score in a manner besides posting up his defender. To do this Roger normally utilizes his speed advantage over his defender to score with the mid-range jump shot. Roger's jump shot is one of the most unique shots I have seen in a while, not in his form, but in the pause he has at the peak of his jump. Almost every time Roger is taking a jump shot, he pauses for a slight moment at the top of his jump and then releases the shot. This maneuver while unorthodox actually benefits him because it keeps taller defenders who normally block a shot like that off balanced allowing him to get off the shot.
Hopefully Roger will gain more confidence in his ability to score in the traditional offense heading into next season, because his ability to score on the inside will help balance out an offense that scored predominantly from the outside last season.
One of Roger's biggest struggles throughout his Illinois career has been his understanding of where he needs to be positioned on the floor offensively. With all the movement Illinois' offense requires from its interior players, Roger often times would get lost on the court after a few ball reversals and would force the Illini offense out of sync. It has not been an uncommon occurrence in the last three years to see a teammate point out to Roger where he should be on the court during the play.
One of the main reasons that it has been tough for Roger to completely grasp the entire nuances of where he was supposed to be in an offense is because prior to last season he was learning the position of both a "big" and a guard. Last season was the first time Roger was placed into the post full time in his career. He still struggled to be in the right position all the time, and when this happened he normally found a spot on the bench next to the coaches who would explain to him where he needed to be and why before sending him out on the court again.
- Despite his instinct for the basketball on the offensive glass, Roger is not a great defensive rebounder. Guarding taller and bigger players became an issue for him on the defensive glass because he was not able to box them out and keep offensive players off the glass. Roger only averaged 2.7 defensive rebounds per game last year, and he will need to improve on that next season. If Roger can improve on his defensive rebounding numbers it will mean less second chance points for the opponent, and an increase in fast break opportunities for Illinois off his outlet passes.
The 2004-2005 season will be the last hurrah for Roger Powell in the Orange & Blue. Roger's role will be pretty much the exact same role he had last season: give Illinois as much of an inside presence as possible. The only thing that I worry about right now is how much Roger will want to showcase his outside game for the NBA during the season. Illinois is a better team and Roger is a better basketball player when he is on the inside. If Roger wants to showcase his outside skills, Illinois could struggle to find the inside game necessary to free up the guards from extreme pressure. I have a feeling that Roger will have no problems at all playing the same role he did last season because he is a team player, but hopefully the outside pressures on Roger to be more of an outside threat will not eat away at him throughout the year.
If there is one thing I would like to see Roger work on this season it is his defensive rebounding positioning. Since he will most likely be undersized, he will need to get better position on the offensive player and get his butt right on the player. If Roger can get a more solid box out it will lead to more defensive rebounds and over the back fouls on opponents, both of which would help Illinois out in the long run.