One conversation with Myles Powell is all it takes to realize he is different than other star players in college basketball.
Despite the numerous accolades to his name and the fame that has come along with being a 2019 preseason All-American and the face of Seton Hall basketball, Powell prefers not to talk too much about himself. Even after games where he single-handedly wills Seton Hall to victory, Powell steers the conversation elsewhere. He would rather talk about Seton Hall’s fans, his teammates and his coaching staff than any aspect of his individual performance.
Why is this the case? It all comes back to the two core principles that have led Powell to the pinnacle of college basketball.
Powell is the product of a tough environment. In his crime-ridden hometown of Trenton, New Jersey, success does not come easy. The temptation to succumb to life on the streets is inescapable. For Seton Hall’s star, that is not just a theory. Powell’s brother, Noel, is currently charged with murder for allegedly shooting a man at an Applebee’s. He is still awaiting trial.
For all the bad that Trenton had to offer, there was some good to be taken from the city. The New Jersey capital may no longer be the manufacturing behemoth it once was, but those letters don’t remain on the Lower Trenton Bridge for nothing. Trenton is where Powell inherited the toughness and resilience that contribute to his success on the hardwood. By his senior year of high school Powell was a four-star recruit and Top 100 player in his class according to 247Sports.com. He was known as one of the premier shooters in the country and would have been ranked higher if he didn’t suffer a foot injury at South Kent School in Connecticut didn’t cause him to put on excess weight.
In November 2015, Powell signed his National Letter of Intent with Seton Hall, picking the Pirates over offers from Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, Kansas State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and VCU, as well as a late push by UCLA. Little did he know at the time, but putting pen to paper would propel him to NCAA stardom.
That never would have happened if Powell didn’t put in the necessary work, though. When he arrived in South Orange, he knew a lifestyle change was needed. Powell reported to Seton Hall weighing around 250 pounds, the same weight as then-Pirates center Angel Delgado. He proceeded to change his entire diet, trading soda and late-night snacks for salad, fish, pasta and other protein-packed foods. He set weekly weight goals for himself and did everything in his power to shatter them by eliminating junk food and sticking to a strict diet.
“It was hard. It was a struggle,” Powell said. “But I had it in my mind of what I wanted to be, so I just kept going and kept fighting.”
Powell’s diet wasn’t the only thing that changed. He turned into a gym rat, hitting the gym in between classes to shed weight and put on muscle. By the first day of his freshman year, Powell weighed 195 pounds and trimmed his body fat to under 10%. By his sophomore season, Powell was playing at less than 8% body fat.
“He has become addicted to being in shape,” Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said in 2017. “He loves the way he looks and he understands how well he’s playing is directly because of how he’s changed his body.”
Powell’s diet and workout regimen translated to immediate success on the court. In his freshman year, he averaged 10.7 points per game despite being buried in the pecking order by a talented group of upperclassmen. He upped that total to 15.5 as a sophomore, earning Big East Most Improved Player honors in the process.
“Being around four seniors [Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington and Ismael Sanogo], I realized that hard work always pays off,” Powell said. “If I’m having bad days where I’m not feeling like myself, I just go to the gym, shoot and work out. Hard work is hard work, so that’s what you have to do.”
Everything changed for Powell entering his junior year. For the first time in his career, he was the veteran in the locker room and No. 1 option. He was the one the young players would turn to for guidance in times of need. He was also the one who would have to take charge in practice, in games and away from the basketball court.
Powell teamed up with fellow upperclassman Michael Nzei to organize team meetings every Friday. Talking basketball was on the table during these meetings, but Powell placed an emphasis on talking about academics and life away from the game.
“The Myles I knew as a freshman, if I went up to him and said, ‘Myles what do you think about this meeting, he would have said, ‘Nah bro, Friday is a day for us to rest,’” Nzei said. “This Myles, when I asked him what he thought, he said, ‘I love it. Let’s start.’”
Powell eventually settled into the leadership role and became the go-to guy for a Seton Hall team that made a late-season run to the Big East Championship game and a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament on and off the court. The country realized he was an elite scorer and his personality and passion were put on full display.
Powell seldom talked to the media in his first two seasons at Seton Hall. With four seniors in the mix, it was tough for him to break into the postgame press room. That was not the case in his third season with the Pirates. Powell faced the media after every game with a big smile on his face whether his team won or lost. He provided insightful answers and handled each question with compassion.
It’s easy to say Powell is well-versed in dealing with the media, but it goes beyond that. He treats all of his teammates as if they were family members. When point guard Jordan Walker temporarily quit the team in December 2017, Powell was there to talk him off the ledge. When one of his teammates goes through a rough stretch on the court, he doesn’t yell or belittle them. He pumps them up and encourages them to give it their all, even when things aren’t going their way.
“Everybody needs to feel loved at some point; it’s a good feeling,” Powell said. “I try to keep that in mind. Even when I’m having a bad day, I try to walk around with a smile on my face because you never know whose day you’ll make.”
Fast forward to this season and Powell is still the same big-hearted person he was last year and as a kid growing up in Trenton. He wishes every member of the media well after games, urging them to drive home safely. Holidays are Powell’s favorite when it comes to expressing well wishes, reminding reporters to enjoy the season and time with their family.
“He is one of the most genuine, caring people you will ever meet,” Seton Hall guard Shavar Reynolds said. “He will take care of you like he is your own blood.”
Powell’s love for his teammates is apparent for the whole country to see on a daily basis. Following a win over Georgetown to kick off the new year in which he essentially sealed the game with a dominant stretch of play over the course of a minute, Powell joined Fox Sports 1 for a postgame interview. Instead of taking the spotlight for himself, he brought Seton Hall center Romaro Gill with him, refusing to do the guest spot without his friend and teammate by his side.
“Ro’ is my roommate. He has been my roommate for the last three years,” Powell said. “Me and Ro’ are really close. Sometimes, that’s what you need to do as a leader. When you have a man like that who is just working and working as hard as he does in the classroom, on the court and off the court, you just want the best for those types of people. I don’t know how to say it. I fade towards people like that. I’m kind of speechless, getting emotional just talking about Ro’.”
A week later, Powell hopped on with Fox Sports 1 once again following a win on the road over Xavier. This time, he credited his teammates for all the success he has achieved this season.
“Without my teammates, there’s no Myles Powell,” he said. “We don’t win this game and I’m not here doing this interview.”
Powell’s relationship with Kevin Willard is also special. Star players and coaches often clash, but that is rarely the case with these two. Powell credits Willard with every aspect of his development as a player and a person in his time at Seton Hall. Likewise, Willard is candid about the impact Powell has had on him.
“Not at all,” Willard said when asked at 2019 Big East Media if he would be the man he is without Powell in his life. “As a coach and as a person, we’ve been through a lot together. We’ve grown together and I think that’s why he is where he is and I think that’s why this program is where it is.”
If it weren’t for Willard’s presence, odds are Powell would have taken his chances in the professional ranks and bypassed his senior year. Powell seriously considered declaring for the NBA draft after last season, but leaned on Willard as his backbone throughout the pre-draft process. Willard was there for his star player every step of the way, flying out to California for his pro day on less than a day’s notice.
“I just told him that I needed him there,” Powell said. “He hung up and called me back in about 30 minutes and he said, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow afternoon and we’re going to go out to dinner’ and he was out there in a couple hours. For somebody that I can call and rely on like that, it meant a lot to me.”
Stardom can take a toll on an athlete. In some cases, it can completely alter one’s personality and the way they treat others. It has not had any bearing on how Powell lives his life, though. He has been doused with preseason accolades and has graced multiple magazine covers since the summer. From preseason award watchlists to preseason Big East Player of the Year and first-team AP All-American honors, every possible form of recognition has been thrown his way. He even has eight billboards with his picture on it spread out around the state.
“When I saw the billboard going into practice, I just gave coach Willard a big hug and kind of melted in his arms,” Powell said. “I just said ‘Thank you coach’. None of this would’ve been possible if it wasn’t for him believing in the fat kid that was 250 pounds.”
How has Powell handled All-American nods and billboards alike? By sticking to the core principles that have gotten him to this point in his life. Powell has grown exponentially in his time at Seton Hall, but deep down, he has always been a humble, soft-spoken kid from Jersey.
“The greatest thing about Myles Powell is that he’s as humble today as when I recruited him in high school,” Willard said. “He wants to make it. Every day he shows up and works hard. His attitude hasn’t changed, his demeanor hasn’t changed. He’s as good a teammate as he was a freshman.
“Ever since he stepped foot in our program, he’s been a young man who has represented us at the highest level. He’s going to be the first of his family to graduate from college. He’s someone who would give his shoes away to someone in the stands just because he sees them. He’s been, for me, like a third son.”
When Powell graduates from Seton Hall in May, it’s a guarantee that he will never be forgotten in South Orange. He has a chance to etch his name into program lore by breaking Terry Dehere’s long-standing all-time scoring record. Whether he accomplishes that feat or not, there is a strong possibility Powell has his No. 13 retired sooner rather than later.
Powell will be remembered by the masses as a dynamic scorer and the star of a Seton Hall team that could make history when it’s all said and done this season. By those who know him the best, though, he will be remembered for his work ethic and big heart – the traits have helped him rise to the ranks of the elite in college basketball over the last two years.
“He’s the toughest son of a gun I know,” Willard said. “I will never ever forget being able to coach him.”
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on twitter @tyler_calvaruso.