Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty is one of the best basketball bloggers out there, and he wrote an essay about Powe for TrueHoop. "I chose Powe," writes Ziller, "because he's in danger of falling out of the draft. That would be a crime."
Basketball is filled with plenty of tragic stories--Len Bias, Reggie Lewis, Jason Collier, Ricky Berry and Jay Williams, to name a few.
But warring with the discouraging sentiment of disappointment-waiting-to-happen that flaots to the top every June with the NBA draft, there's another element we relish: the hope of redemption.
Leon Powe (like Edgar Allen, not Gasol), the 23-year-old power forward from Cal, might be the best story this draft has. Raised street as they come in tough North Oakland, Powe lost his dad to deadbeatism at age 2. His family's duplex (and all their material goods) burned to the ground at age 7, which sent Powe into foster care. A tough life? As a high school, he lost his mom to unknown causes. Four days later, he put up 19/10 in the state championship game. A few weeks later, he tore his ACL. Still, he didn't give up. He beat academic problems to end up at Cal, a school that won't take chances on bad students.
How? A stunning mix of birthrighted talent and soldier-like hard work. In his first game as a freshman at Oakland Tech, he came into the second half off the bench and put up 18/10/9. Plenty of talent. Hard work? His GPA went from 1.9 to 3.2 in two years. It didn't stop when Powe got to Cal--the hope or the heartbreak. As a freshman--coming off ACL surgery--Powe led Cal in scoring and rebounds and was named the team's MVP. (He did the same in 2005-06, except that he led the entire Pac-10 in both categories.) You can almost guess what happened next--his injured knee required surgery, sticking him on the shelf for his sophomore campaign. The next step is predictable, too--Powe came back strong for his third year (second season) at Cal, as the best low-post player in the conference and the best Pac-10 pro prospect not named Brandon Roy. As questions again resurfaced about Powe's possible bid for the pros popped up as the season dwindled, what did Leon do? 22/20 against USC and 41 against Oregon in the Pac-10 tourney. Most mocks have Powe going somewhere in the second round, and at the very highest the late first round. A couple of the more reputable "professional mocks" have Powe going undrafted (which would be a shock).
The knee, obviously, is the concern. As athletic as Leon is, teams will understandably be afraid to gamble on two surgeries in four seasons. But judging from the track record, Powe can get through it. No challenge he's faced yet as gone undefeated. (And yes, I think Powe would be a marvelous understudy for Shareef Abdur-Rahim. The Kings picking at #19 would be stretching there, but it's not unprecedented. See: Kevin Martin in 2004, on the most rigid of draft bubbles, going to Sacramento at #26. Purple Powe would also grease the skids of Kenny-Thomas-on-a-train-out-of-town. This is not a bad thing.) (And what would a prospect profile be without some cold water? Powe faced Arizona State's Ike Diogu - the #9 pick of the 2005 draft - twice. Diogu went for 30+ both times, and held Powe under 20. In fairness, Powe was coming off an injury in the first game and Cal won both matchups. So the cold water isn't icy.)
Contra Costa Times columnist Eric Gilmore was one of many who unsuccessfully urged Powe to stay in school:
Powe put on quite a show during the regular season, leading the Pac-10 in scoring and rebounding, and this week at the Pac-10 tournament.
At 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, Powe often has looked like a man among Pac-10 boys. His muscles are massive. His hands are enormous. He can overpower most of his college opponents.
That's what he did Thursday night, powering Cal to an 82-67 win over USC and into Friday night's semifinal against Oregon.
NBA scouts surely took note when Powe muscled up for 22 points and a Pac-10 tournament record 20 rebounds against the Trojans.
Yet when Powe moves to the NBA, he won't be able to rely so heavily on brute force. He'll be an undersized power forward, facing the freakishly tall, long and skilled Rasheed Wallaces and Kevin Garnetts of the NBA world.
Powe is a more powerful version of current Warriors rookie Ike Diogu, minus Diogu's slick inside moves and soft mid-range shot.
OK, that may all be true, but Leon Powe looks good on TV.