Myles Powell realized college would be an adjustment well before classes began.
The Seton Hall guard’s freshman campaign has been filled with ups and downs. He’s reached the 20-point plateau a few times, drilled an overtime game-winner against Providence on Feb. 8 and shined in front of a crowd at Madison Square Garden. On the other hand, there was a prolonged slump, a misfired Jan. 11 buzzer-beater against Marquette and limitations brought on by injuries lingering since high school.
It was health that forced Powell to confront his first adjustment: weight loss. The highly-touted recruit arrived in South Orange weighing 240 pounds.
He broke his foot while in high school at Trenton Catholic, then again at Connecticut’s South Kent School, a preparatory. After four months on the sidelines, it was made clear to Powell that he had to slim down once with the Pirates.
Already known as “Cheese” growing up, Powell’s heft encouraged nicknames like “Butterball.” However, that didn’t last long.
He was down to 195 pounds by his debut. It was a quiet night, but Powell scored double-digits for the first time in his second game. It was against Iowa, however, that the sharpshooter earned his reputation, scoring 26 points in the road win. He would go on to score in double-digits in three of his next four outings, including a 21-point showing against Columbia in which he went 7-10 from deep.
The rookie shot with a sniper’s precision that day. Then, suddenly, Powell lost his aim.
He would hit double-digits in just two of his next 11 games, shooting less than 30 percent from the field and 23.3 percent from three. Struggling like never before, Powell relied heavily on the support of his team.
“There was a lot of up and down, but my four juniors stayed with me – and my coaching staff,” Powell told The Setonian, highlighting the veteran leadership of Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and Ismael Sanogo. “They believed in me. Never in my mind did I feel like my team or coaching staff lost faith in me. They helped me pull through.”
Powell bounced back from that 11-game stretch. He hit 42.1 percent from the field over the Pirates’ last 14 games, boosting his downtown rate to 34 percent while averaging 11.9 points over that span. He lit St. John’s up with 19 points on Jan. 26, matched his career best of 26 at Xavier on Feb. 1 and scored 17 in his introduction to the Big East Tournament on March 9.
As Powell regained his form, sometimes a change in attire was required. He said he’s not superstitious, but those paying attention may have noticed that Powell will switch up his sneakers or ditch an undershirt if the first half of a game doesn’t go his way.
“I always bring another pair [of shoes],” Powell said, laughing as if he had been caught red-handed. “Maybe if I’ve got an undershirt on and I’m shooting and I miss my first couple – yeah I feel like the sleeve is holding my arms down or something like that and I take it off. At the end of the day, it’s all mind, it’s all in your mind.”
As the Pirates prepare for Arkansas and March Madness, Powell’s play suggests he has his mind in the right place. He’s grooving again. His coach said it has been a matter of getting acquainted to routine.
“Everybody forgets with Myles, he broke his foot last year. So he’s been limited on how much we can do extra with him, how much work he has to put in,” Kevin Willard explained to reporters. “Some of his shooting struggles have been more or less from the fact that we’ve had to limit him a little bit. The fact that he’s gotten used to his work load now is why he’s playing much better.”
Powell finished the season averaging 10.7 points while shooting 33 percent from long distance and 39 percent overall. He didn’t receive any Big East freshman honors, but the Pirates are happy with his production this season.
“One of the reasons we’re in the NCAA Tournament is because of him,” Delgado said. “Myles is one of the best shooters in the conference. He got a great future waiting for him.”
As important as Powell’s play has been, his duties go beyond sinking three-point shots.
A close friend of Trevon Duval, Powell has spent some time recruiting the Class of 2017’s No. 1 point guard to South Orange. It is an added responsibility for a guy that has already had to adjust to the Division I spotlight and college itself.
There’s also the matter of not crossing the boundaries of friendship, but Powell said that has not been an issue with Duval, who has narrowed his choices down to Duke, Kansas, Baylor and Arizona, in addition to the Hall.
“We grew up together. Regardless if he comes here or doesn’t come here, or I say something, I know he’s not going to take it the wrong way,” Powell said. “Our friendship is way too deep to let something like this interrupt that.”
Right now, Powell’s recruiting efforts are on hold as the Pirates’ postseason continues.
He’s got the biggest game of his life to prepare for, so all of Powell’s focus is on Arkansas at the moment. He can’t wait to start dancing in Greenville, S.C. Furthermore, he sees himself and the Pirates doing so for more than a few games.
“Growing up as a basketball player and watching all the big stages, you always dream about playing in the NCAA Tournament,” Powell said. “Now I finally get a shot and I’m going to leave it all out on the floor.
“We really feel like we can play for a national championship.”
Gary Phillips can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @GaryHPhillips.