What Will Leon Powe Do?
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 13, 2006

WILL THE NCAA tournament be Leon Powe’s last appearance in a Cal uniform? Knowing from the last two seasons what a difference Powe makes, Cal fans can hope not, but the final decision will rest on his best interests, as it should.

To maximize his economic potential, Powe should only leave school this spring if he can be a lottery pick in the NBA draft. Though there is a wide spread of opinion about Powe among NBA scouts, that doesn’t seem likely at the moment.

If Cal were to go deep into the NCAA tournament, that would enhance Powe’s standing among NBA talent evaluators, because the Bears will only have a strong tournament if Powe has monster games similar to what he had in the Pac-10 conference tournament win over Oregon on Friday night.

He could also boost his standing if he had good workouts for NBA teams, as he would be allowed to do without declaring for the draft. (Powe has not said whether he’ll do that.)

The best comparison for Powe is former Arizona State star Ike Diogu. Their collegiate games are very similar. Diogu played in the middle, as Powe has, but had to switch to power forward with the Warriors, after a brief stint at center failed. They’re roughly the same size, about 6-7, and both very strong. Diogu led the conference in both scoring and rebounding in his final season, and Powe has done that this season.

Diogu was not expected to be a lottery pick last spring, but the Warriors picked him, proof that it only takes one team to like a player. Diogu has since had a strange season. He was injured early. When he came back, he hardly played – until he was suddenly thrust into the starting lineup. Since then, he has rarely been on the floor for an extended period. He’s had problems defensively, but he’s usually scored and rebounded well when he’s played, though no plays have been set up for him.

Powe has been able to muscle his way inside to get shots – or free throws, when he’s fouled. He won’t be able to do that in the NBA, where inside players are bigger and stronger than in college ball.

Late this season, Powe occasionally ventured away from the basket to take shots in the 12-15 foot range, and he showed a surprisingly good touch. He’d probably be better off working on developing that shot before next season. If he can show NBA scouts that he can play facing the basket, his draft rating will go higher.

I’m biased, of course, but I think he’ll eventually be a good pro, because of his character as well as his ability. He is a coach’s dream, a tireless worker who never complains and always does his best. That description would not fit the majority of NBA players.

IF POWE RETURNS, the Bears will be a contending team again, but I’m not prepared to say they’ll win the conference. I think this season is as good as it’s going to get as long as Ben Braun is the coach. And for those of you who keep writing me about suggestions for his replacement, forget it. Braun will not be fired.

During the conference tournament final, the television announcers commented on how much the young UCLA team had improved during the season, under the tutelage of Ben Howland.

That’s very true, and a reason the Bruins could be a significant factor in the NCAA tournament – if they can get by Gonzaga in the Western Regional at the Coliseum. That should be a great game, with UCLA’s stifling defense trying to shut down Adam Morrison. Tape that one and keep it in your library.

In contrast to UCLA, Cal’s season went in fits and starts. The Bears’ best game came against Arizona on Feb. 16, when they showed their physical superiority to the Wildcats, who are known for their athleticism, allowing them no transition points.

That showed what the Bears were capable of, but then they followed with a loss to Arizona State, a squeaker of a win over Washington State (Parenthetically, don’t you think the conference coaches threw a party when they heard Dick Bennett was retiring?), a loss to Washington and a win over USC to close out the season. They got into the conference finals by beating USC again and Oregon in the overtime game but lost to UCLA decisively in the finals. The NCAA selectors apparently liked the fact that the Bears won three of their last four, but those wins were over two teams which finished below .500 in conference play.

The problems remain the same. This is a team with the athleticism to play an up-tempo game, but Braun prefers a controlled offense. Unfortunately, he has no real half-court offense, so if Powe can’t get free for a shot, the Bears pass the ball around the perimeter until one of them puts up a three-point shot, often an off-balance one.

UCLA plays more of a controlled offense, too, but their defense creates some fast break points and the Bruins have plays to run in their half-court offense that give them good shots.

CAL GOT a higher than expected seeding, seventh for the Atlanta Regional, but it would be unrealistic to expect the Bears to go far. They should win their first round game against North Carolina State, which has lost its last four games, but their next opponent would probably be Texas, a team some think could be in the Final Four.

The Bears’ only chance of surprising teams is for Powe to just take over games as he did against Oregon. Even that could cause problems because if Powe has a great tournament, his reputation among NBA decision-makers could elevate to the point that he could become a lottery pick. The Bears have provided an emotional roller coaster for Cal followers this season, and it seems it will be more of the same in the NCAA tournament.



CRUISE: I've decided to postpone the Eastern Mediterranean cruise until next spring. Too many readers want to stay home for the baseball postseason and college and NFL seasons. Frankly, so do I. I'll post details later about the dates for the cruise.

LETTERS: I updated this section on Saturday.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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