Sam Potolsky (@sampotolsky15)
Yazid Powell grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant, and it was his emulation of the late NBA superstar last year that brought him new-found fame. A day after Bryant passed away in a helicopter crash, shocking the basketball world, Powell scored 81 points for Community College of Beaver County, intentionally air-balling his final free throw to match Bryant’s greatest NBA scoring performance.
Yazid Powell (0) has been staying sharp this summer by playing in the Brotherly Love ProAm Summer League. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“Still to this day when I walk around, people ask me ‘You scored 81 points?” Powell said in July after playing in the Brotherly Love Pro-Am in Camden (N.J.). “I’ll be in bowling alleys or Wawa and people still ask me that, like little kids and stuff.”
But Powell’s 81-point performance and the ensuing buzz is only a small part of his basketball journey, which has included stops at multiple high schools — although he played basketball at only two of them — followed by a year of prep school and two junior colleges. But Powell has found a home at Harcum College.
After starring for the Bears this past season, Powell plans to return for the upcoming season, having already attracted numerous Division I offers.
It will be the first time in years Powell has played consecutive seasons at the same high school, prep or college program after bouncing around various programs, starting when he was a junior in high school.
Powell played two-and-half seasons at Boys Latin, but midway through his junior season transferred to West Philadelphia High School, where he did not play basketball. From there, he wanted to play for Overbrook High School as a senior, but the move wasn’t approved and he ended up playing at Rocktop Academy (Pa.), though he was still taking classes at Overbrook.
Powell was very upset about not being able to finish his high school career at Overbrook, the school that Wilt Chamberlain made famous 70 years back.
“I actually thought about not playing basketball anymore, but people were in my ear telling me to not give up and not let my talent go to waste,” Powell said.
At Rocktop, Powell caught the eye of the Harcum coaching staff, excelling in a game against the Bears, but was dead set on going the Division I route.
Powell (above) played with WeR1 on the summer circuit in 2018, when he was committed to Rider. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
But those plans were put on hold due to the high school transfer saga. Originally a Class of 2018 recruit, Powell reclassified to 2019. Initially, Mount Zion Prep (Md.) and then Rider University was the plan, but he ended up at Olympus Prep Academy (N.J.) in fall 2018, around when he de-committed from Rider.
Harcum remained interested after Powell’s season at Olympus, but he was still planning on going Division I, having committed to Mississippi Valley State University at the time.
“I was like, ‘I’m not going to JUCO,’” Powell said.
The plan changed, though, and that’s how Powell ended up at Beaver County on Jan. 27, 2020, honoring Bryant with that 81-point game. After that 2019-20 season, it was Powell who took the initiative, reaching out to Harcum, the Philadelphia area’s only Division I junior college and a breeding ground for Division I players under longtime head coach Drew Kelly.
The athletic 6-3 guard ended up on the Bears’ roster this past season and averaged 17.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 17 games, stats that in any typical year would have drawn him offers from a number of D-I programs. But it wasn’t a normal year; due to COVID, Harcum played schools like Lackawanna College and Raritan Valley Community College a combined eight times.
“It was good, but COVID messed it up this year because we kept playing the same teams,” Powell said.
It was early July that Powell's stock really bloomed when he played in the JA48, a showcase where the top 48 JUCO players in the country display their talents; he picked up four offers on the same day from Northern Illinois, Jacksonville State University, UMBC, and Morgan State. In the weeks since, he’s added offers from New Mexico State, Weber State and Florida International.
“It felt good because I was so used to schools hitting me up more spaced out — one hits me up this week, another hits me up a different week,” Powell said, “but everyone was hitting me up on the same day, same night. I had coaches calling me while I was on the phone with other coaches, it was kind of crazy.”
Powell doesn’t have any visits lined up yet, as he wants to see how things play out. But he does value a strong relationship with his coaches.
“I’m just trying to build relationships,” Powell said. “I feel like if I have a good relationship with my head coach everything will be cool. Like me and coach Kelly, with my next coach I want to have a bond like that because our bond is really strong.”
To continue getting some high-level competition during the summer Powell played in the Camden, New Jersey-based Pro-Am, which wrapped up late last month. Powell played for “Da P” in the Brotherly Love ProAm for a few games, enjoying the experience and learning from his older teammates.
“It's cool, they talk to me and let me know what I’m doing wrong and I’m taking it all in… of course I’m listening to them, I’m gonna pay my homage,” Powell said.
It’s just the latest iteration in his basketball odyssey.
“I’ve had a crazy basketball journey,” Powell said. “I can’t believe I’m even here right now, to be honest.”