Thank you, Norman Powell.
The best athlete at UCLA since Russell Westbrook has never missed a game in his UCLA career. Yet, he has been constantly overshadowed. Norman Powell stayed for four years in every possible role imaginable. Yet, until recently, he never received credit for being even a star at UCLA. He never complained. His hard work paid off as he is, now seemingly, a lock at a first round pick and, more importantly, a great Bruin.
His freshman year, he showed early promise when UCLA, after Reeves Nelson had been kicked off the team and with Travis Wear hurt, it was Norman Powell crashing the boards with 17 over a two game stretch as UCLA finally got to a winning record. In the second game against UCI Norman added 19 points in just 22 minutes. Norman showed flashes then but something strange happen. Then UCLA Coach Ben Howland wanted to make Norman Powell into the mold of Tyler Lamb and Zeek Jones, a three point shooter first. Norman was seemingly chained to the three point line as he learned Howland's relatively complex offense. He would end up shooting half his shots that season from three.
His second season was arguably stranger. In came the superstar freshman class. Out went Tyler Lamb scared off by the competition. The Shabazz Mohammad follies began with Shabazz being eligible, maybe not. It is hard to remember now, but Powell started the season at the 2 guard next to Larry Drew II with Kyle Anderson as wing and the Wears as forwards. It was in one of these first few games he set his career high (until Sunday) of 27 against James Madison where he also got five assists. Shabazz came back. Powell, the team's best athlete and, arguably, best defender, was benched for Shabazz and Jordan Adams.
Norman shot even more threes at a worse pace as a result. Norman was the sixth man, but, really, a forgotten player shooting threes at a poor percentage and having an occasional highlight reel dunk. When Adams got hurt and Powell stepped in his place for the PAC-12 finals and NCAA tourney, Howland admitted they had no plays for Powell. Powell shot 18 times in those two games but 13 of them were from three. For whatever reason to Howland, Powell was always an afterthought.
If anyone needed a new coach, it was Norman. For all the criticisms of Steve Alford, one place he deserves praise is for finally setting Norman Powell free. But still Norman was playing a role. This time, Norman was the designated defender. The 6'4" Norman who had never played a game at point guard in his life was often matching up with the other teams point guard because Kyle Anderson could not cover a point guard. He was the ace defender.
Powell finally stopped trying to be a three point shooter first. And guess what happen? Powell shot an incredible, for a guard, 53% and was UCLA's third leading scorer. He was not the number one option but, over time, Powell showed he was a damn good option.Now Powell's big games weren't just in the nonconference season but Powell was leading UCLA at the end of the season and to the PAC-12 Conference title. Powell scored 15 or more in the last two games of the PAC 12 Tournament and the first two of the NCAA tournament. Powell was the team's best defender and an offense force.
Before the season as Chrissorr and I sat down to a preseason Q and A, I predicted Powell would lead us in scoring. I felt Norman was ready to break out and was finally clearly the best offensive player on a team and would be set free.
It took a while because Bryce was taking more shots than Norman. Getting Tony Parker started was arguably more important for the offense. But, in the end, it is all about Norman. And, unlike everyone else on UCLA this season, Norman's averages actually increased as the season went on. He has scored in double digits in 15 of the 17 PAC 12 games and over 20 in nine of the games.
But this is Norman Powell. It can never be easy. The only breaks he can get is to his thumb. I was at the Alabama game where Powell dislocated his thumb. Powell jogged to the bench and the locker room with his thumb pointing the wrong direction. Powell came back out of the locker room and was so anxious to get back in the game the trainer had to almost push him down while he taped his hand. The tape job was rushed as a result and came undone. However, Powell was not going sit and was literally running to the trainer on free throws to fix his tape job.
Powell upped his scoring average after this, despite playing a number of games with a taped thumb. Think about that: a basketball player who doesn't let a hand injury stop him and even plays better with a bad thumb.
Again, this is Norman Powell. So, no glowing press releases or praise for his toughness. Sure, he has won player of the week three times this year, but how many guys have won it once with tape on their thumb?
That's Norman. Even when Norman has arguably the best dunk of the college basketball season, to many, it was not the best dunk of the day or even the best dunk by someone who went to UCLA. While the world was drooling over Zach LaVine winning a dunking exhibition, Norman was winning a game with a between the legs behind the back power dunk.
Are you kidding me?
Really, none of this surprises me. Norman has done it all for UCLA. He has worked his butt off through the chaos of the latter Howland years to the nepotism of the Alford years. He has never stopped playing hard.
However, I have to admit that Powell did much more than I expected off the court and in the locker room; Powell proved to be a leader. If we make the NCAA tournament, it will be because of Powell's play and his leadership. I always thought Powell was the quiet reserved guy.
Sure, he has a mean dunk face and can roar and pump his fist after one of his great ones but a leader on the team? I never saw that as even possible. Yet, after another embarrassing non-effort on defense against Oregon, Powell went off. He called out his teammates. He yelled and lost it in the locker room.
The team responded. UCLA went on a tear and became a "better defense" team. All because of Norman. It is not just that Norman is the best offensive and defensive player on the team. It is because Norman is the team leader.
There is not much at BruinsNation we can do to properly thank Norman for his four years. But he has earned our highest honor, The Initials. Norman has been such a great Bruin, we will simply call him NP4. He will join he likes of Arron Afflalo(AA) and Maurice Jones-Drew(MJD) as Bruins that are known here by their initials.
We honor him, not just as a great UCLA player, but as a player who persevered and stayed four years.
Thank you, NP4! You have been a great Bruin. You will be missed. And, we wish you continued success in the future.