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Columnists | Message Board  | Daily Dribble

By Michael Dugan

February 24th, 2006


Leon Powe: Someone Worth Rooting For

His story would make Horatio Alger proud


The California sophomore has overcome more in twenty-two years than most people will in their entire lives.


His father bolted the family when Leon was two.  And when he was seven, his home was burned to the ground after his younger brother, Tim, was left alone to play with an errant matchbook.  Accident, though it was, it nonetheless would have long-lasting repercussions. 


With no place to go and little money in their pockets, Powe and his family, which included five children, were made nomads overnight.  For years, they settled where they could, whether it was homeless shelters or shoddy motels, sometimes everyone sleeping in the same bed.


Over time, that burden proved too much for Powe’s mother, Connie Landry. With no steady income to support her family, and a burgeoning drug habit, Child Protective Services took control of Leon and Tim, placing both into foster care. 


It was about this time where Powe was steered towards basketball.


Blessed with soft, big hands and a seven-foot wingspan, the 6’8’’ 230 pound Powe seemed like a natural. His heartache did not end with his discovery of basketball, however – far from it.


During his junior year in high school, Powe’s mother died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 41 just days before he was to play for the state title.  Despite the family’s troubles, he remained close with her and the loss weighed heavily upon his performance.  To add injury to insult (literally), only weeks later, he ripped the ACL in his left knee while playing in an AAU tournament in Houston.


Still, playing on a reconstructed knee, he became perhaps the best high school product from the Bay Area since Jason Kidd in the early nineties.  After his senior year in 2003, he was a Parade All-American, a McDonald’s All-American and a top-10 prospect in virtually all the recruiting services, including Rivals, Athlon and PrepStars.


From there, Powe went on to Cal, where he enjoyed a great freshmen season.  After averaging over 15 points and a conference-leading nine rebounds, he was named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and earned all-conference honors.


Unfortunately, Powe’s good fortune was short-lived.


After the season, he had not one, but two surgeries.  The first was a bone graft intended to relieve the pain that still existed from his ACL tear, and the second was another reconstruction when the knee failed to respond.  It was three major surgeries on the same knee in the span of about two years.


A lesser man would have given up, coming to the conclusion that the world was a dreadful, vicious place even to the most innocent among us.  A mere mortal placed in his position would have lashed out, or, maybe, found a destructive outlet for their pain on the streets or, maybe, in a gang.  Powe did not do that. Nor did he feel sorry for himself, even if he had every reason do so, for his plight was certainly not of his own making. Rather, he persevered through yet another obstacle and fought back, rehabbing his knee for close to 16 months.


Off the court, he’s made progress towards a degree in social work and in his off-time he speaks with inner-city youth about the importance of making good choices.  In 2003, he received an award from the Alameda County (Calif.) Board of Supervisors for his work in the community.


This year, Powe is back and finally healthy, averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. The best player on the West Coast not named Adam Morrison also has Cal (17-7, 11-4) tied atop the Pac-10 standings with UCLA, which means, barring a collapse, the Bears will make the NCAA Tournament, after finishing with a 13-16 record last season without him.  And though he’s almost sure to win Pac-10 Player of the Year, somehow he’s not a finalist for the Wooden Award, which is outrageous.  Indeed, the notion that he’s not one of the 30 best players in America is absurd. 


That slight notwithstanding, Leon Powe’s story is incredible.  To come from where he’s been and to be dealt the hardships he’s had to overcome, and be a flourishing, successful – not basketball player – but human, is amazing.  Certainly, he’s someone worth rooting for.





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