The NBA Draft’s Most Unlikely Participant

NBA arenas, chartered flights, five-star hotels and being set financially; all of these things were supposed to happen for Damon Powell. Despite some setbacks, he still finds himself one step closer to his ultimate goal.

Growing up in Oakland, Calif., Powell saw that he was born with amazing athletic ability, dunking for the first time in middle school. After playing JV ball for a month at McClymonds High School – a school that produced Hall of Famer Bill Russell, Paul Silas and legendary streetballer Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell – his high wire and high intensity act moved up to the varsity. As a junior in 2008, he led his squad to a top ranking in California and No. 3 ranking in the nation with a 32-0 record.

Powell snagged an invite to the NBA Players Association Camp, which showcases the top 100 high school players in the nation. When the camp was over, the 6-7, 215-pounder came home with the “Best Defensive Player” and “Mr. Hustle” awards. Powell’s reputation as a defensive force grew. He was ranked the third best defensive forward in the nation by ESPN, and Greg Hicks, a West Coast Recruiting Analyst for Scout.com, said he “might be the best athlete in the West Coast class of 2009.”

With offers from the likes of Kansas, Oregon State, Mississippi State and Washington coming in, Division I stardom was a foregone conclusion for Powell. But despite committing to Fresno State, he would never get the chance, having to go to Los Medanos Junior College instead.

“There was a miscommunication about my SATs,” says Powell. “I think some paperwork got lost and by the time they fixed the problem, I was already at Los Medanos. That hurt a lot. I was planning on going D-I and this crushed me.”

Even with this setback, Powell continued his hoops grind, earning first team all-conference honors. Powell left school after just one year though, citing hardships back at home.

“It wasn’t helping me financially,” says Powell of his community college stint. “I really needed to do something to help my mom and my little sister.”

Powell found a nice situation with the Eastbay Pit Bulls of the ABA this past season. He averaged a double-double while shooting 58 percent from the field. In February, the Pit Bulls played against the AND1 Mixtape Tour team. He impressed with his 26 points and aerial display and got an offer to go on tour. However, he stayed true to himself.

“I am not a streetballer,” says Powell. “They liked my athleticism ,but I would rather much take charges and block shots than just be a dunker. I love playing defense.”

This should serve Powell well as he tries to make an NBA team this summer. Defensive intensity and hustle are usually the intangibles long shots need to catch the eye of a coaching staff. As names such as Kyrie, Derrick, Jimmer and Kemba are bounced around the draft boards, Powell will be nonexistent. He is perfectly fine with that. Right now he is working out with Gary Payton‘s brother in Oakland, expanding his game since his frame screams small forward in the Association. But with Powell’s affinity for defense and high energy, Ben Wallace is a name that comes to mind as an undersized power forward who made a nice living in the League.

Powell knows he can make it, even when the odds are against him. Confidence is not an issue for this player who describes his game as “Vince Carter on offense and Bruce Bowen on defense.” Coming up on the AAU and summer camp circuit, Powell has played alongside DeMarcus Cousins, Jordan Hamilton, Brandon Knight and Kawhi Leonard. Still, people will always bring up the ABA tag as a negative.

“Most of the players in the ABA came from Division I programs,” he says. “Some players in our conference even played in the D-League and overseas. There are even some former NBA players that are coaches in the ABA.”

Regardless of what detractors may say, Powell has his hopes set on NBA workouts, making noise for a training camp squad (if and when there’s a season) and seeing where that takes him. It’s likely he will have to go about it as an undrafted free agent. This doesn’t matter to Powell, as long as he gets to the life he and everyone else envisioned.

“It will mean a lot,” says Powell of making an NBA team. “It would mean all my hard work has paid off and I know it would make my mom and entire family proud. I know a lot of people in Oakland would be proud because many people around here think I should have been in the League already.”

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