February 24th, 2006
Someone Worth Rooting For
would make Horatio Alger proud
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.