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Facing top recruit brings challenges, intrigue for county basketball players

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Guarding or being guarded by future N.C. Tar Heel poses an interesting experience for local high school opponents

By Bob Sutton

Special to The Alamance News

The opportunity to play against one of the top recruits in the country has been intriguing for boys’ basketball players from Alamance County.

While the results haven’t been all that encouraging, the experience of facing Northwood’s Drake Powell is something to savor.

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“It was a very fun experience getting to play against someone with that talent,” Cummings junior forward Ja’Kway Robertson said.

Powell is a University of North Carolina signee who regularly draws spectator interest whenever and wherever he plays.

Next season, it will be at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill. Last season, at Eastern Alamance, Western Alamance, and Williams.

Last week, at Southeast Alamance. Next week, at Cummings.

After a home game vs. Northwood, Southeast sophomore Jerry Sims, who actually outscored the Chargers standout in both lopsided losses, posed with Powell as part of a jersey swap (though in high school, the jerseys aren’t actually exchanged for keeps).

“I like doing that because I like good players,” Sims said. “If they make it bigger, I get to look back at it and say I played against them. He knows who I am.”

Players are aware of the extra attention when playing vs. Northwood.

“You get recognition, just show how good you are,” Sims said. “Just play hard. Playing against good competition shows how good you really are. He’s a good player, so I want to thank him for playing hard against me and not taking us easy.”

Powell, a 6-foot-6 wing, is son of former Tar Heels player Dedric Powell.

Drake Powell spends time with fans after the game at Southeast Alamance.

Northwood played in the Central 3-A Conference the past two seasons. This school year, the Chargers moved down to Class 2-A and were slotted into the Mid-Carolina Conference along with Cummings, Graham and Southeast.

Powell, who has been selected to play in the prestigious McDonald’s All-American Game, has led Northwood to Class 3-A state runner-up finishes in two of the past three years. Next week, Graham goes to Pittsboro for a rematch with the Chargers on Tuesday night, while Cummings has a home date February 9.

Southern Alamance never faced Powell because the Patriots had been in Class 4-A, replacing Northwood in the Central 3-A Conference this school year.

Along with Powell, Seaforth’s Jarin Stevenson drew lots of attention in the previous two seasons. A 6-foot-11 player, Stevenson had North Carolina as one of his finalists when selecting a college, but instead reclassified and chose Alabama, where he has been playing as a freshman this season for the nationally ranked Crimson Tide

Seaforth’s games in the Mid-Carolina Conference drew recruiters and basketball junkies. Graham athletics director Kyle Ward recalled conversations with North Carolina coach Hubert Davis, who visited the Red Devils’ gym to watch Stevenson.

That leaves Powell as a main attraction this season.

“Drake is an incredible athlete and even better basketball player. (But) when you’re on the court, you don’t think about it, you’re playing basketball.”

– Eastern senior Jalen Alston

Eastern’s Jalen Alston, now a senior, saw plenty of Powell in past seasons.

“Drake is an incredible athlete and even better basketball player,” Alston said, noting the hype associated with those games before and afterward. “(But) when you’re on the court, you don’t think about it, you’re playing basketball.”

“His defense is what’s so debilitating. He’s so long.”

– Williams coach Jimmy Lloyd

Williams coach Jimmy Lloyd was an assistant for the Bulldogs when facing Northwood the past two years. The Chargers just had too much firepower with Powell.

“It was like when you got in trouble at school and you knew what was coming when you got home,” Lloyd said of going into those games. “His defense is what’s so debilitating. He’s so long.”

It’s not that the opponents don’t have a plan for Powell.

“We tried defending [him] the best we could, and it didn’t work.”

– Williams’ senior Milton Turner

“It was crazy,” Williams senior Milton Turner recalled. “We tried defending [him] the best we could, and it didn’t work.”

Southeast forward Khaleb Satterfield was matched up against Powell at times. He said there was no intimidation.

“It was cool, very talented player,” Satterfield said.

Southeast coach Bo Williamson said Powell’s presence can be a distraction for his players.

“Sometimes you get caught watching a little bit,” he said.

During the game at Southeast when it was clear that most of Powell’s work had been done at the end of the third quarter, many Tar Heels apparel-wearing onlookers headed for the exit. Powell played briefly in the fourth quarter, clearly not interested in scoring but instead setting up teammates for high-percentage shots.

Afterward, he posed for photos with fans, some from Southeast.

More matchups between county teams and Northwood could come in the Mid-Carolina Conference Tournament on February 19-23. Powell won’t be back to play in Alamance County because the Chargers will be home in the quarterfinals.  The semifinals and finals are scheduled for Northwood.

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