Justin Powell, leading in silence

Nearly through his first season at WSU, meet Justin Powell



WSU guard Justin Powell shoos a 3-pointer during an NCAA basketball game against Oregon State, Feb. 16, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

LUKE WESTFALL, Evergreen sports co-editor

Justin Powell is a 6-foot-6 combo guard from Prospect, Kentucky, and was an ESPN top 100 prospect out of high school. His journey to WSU has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride.

During his time playing high school basketball, Powell knew he wanted to go as far as he could. He said that was when he started hitting the gym before and after practice to take the next step. 

Once his dad broke the news that he got his first scholarship offer, reality hit that what he always dreamed of was finally happening. Some players love the spotlight of the recruitment process, but Powell found it stressful. 

“Obviously it’s a good problem to have and I’m grateful for it, but it’s definitely stressful because you got a lot of things to consider to get to your future,” Powell said. “You’re putting your trust into a lot of people and you got to figure out where you want to play and what’s the best fit and it’s not just ‘oh, I liked this school so I’m gonna go play there.’ There are a lot more things behind the scenes like the players there and the system that they run.”

For Powell, in his first recruiting process that took him to Auburn, and the transfer process to Tennessee, the most important factors were being close to home, and playing for a prestigious program, he said.

In the transfer process to WSU however, he did a lot of research on who would let him be a combo guard and where he really fit, no matter where in the country, he said.

“This last decision, I wanted to go anywhere and play, last year I wasn’t playing so much so I wanted to go somewhere where I would be on the floor,” Powell said.

WSU reached out to Powell before he even transferred to Tennessee, and once he left Tennessee, WSU stood out because of their fun play style and desire to shoot the three, said Powell.

One of the biggest things that Powell learned in his time at Auburn and especially at Tennessee when he was on the scout team, was how to motivate himself and battle through adversity.

“I think that really helped me here to be able to go and pick up different things and play at a high level because if you don’t have adversity, I believe that you’re really not ready for that next step. So whatever is thrown at you, you can handle and I think that really helped me,” Powell said.

In his time here, Powell has built a comfortable relationship with the coaching staff. He said he can hang out in their offices and get to know them outside of basketball, describing head coach Kyle Smith as a “personable guy.”

Powell is someone who goes to the gym to get work in but is a real “homebody,” who fills his time with basketball and video games. But his teammates are always welcome to come in and he has built great relationships with them. 

They do things to build relationships like go bowling and go out to eat to stay close, he said. Powell’s teammate Mouhamed Gueye had similar things to say about him.

“Off the court, he’s a real quiet guy to himself, I go to his crib a lot cause he doesn’t go out, he’s just playing 2K, on the phone with the family or on Warzone or whatever. But he’s a great guy, great teammate, he’s really unselfish and cool to deal with,” Gueye said.

Powell described himself as a shooter first and an initiator with the ball, but he loves to get assists and play the game the right way, he said. Teammate Ben Olesen said Powell would much rather get an assist than score himself.

“I constantly am one of the people that is telling him to be more aggressive in the huddle, he wants to see guys score 20 or 30 points and doesn’t care if he scores 20 or zero,” Oleson said. “He’s just really smart, he’s just constantly within the game and outside of the game talking everybody through everything that’s going on.”

Powell was not cleared to play due to knee injuries until September, during which time he was studying the offense, which he did quickly, Oleson said. 

The offense has pretty much been the same everywhere Powell has gone, but the defense was the tough part, Powell said. The defensive scheme was different at Tennessee and he said he made many mistakes in the beginning.

The biggest room for improvement for Powell is in his defensive game, and his team’s success, he said. He wants to go into the Pac-12 Tournament and make noise.

“I hold myself to a high standard, some people say I’m a little too hard on myself,” Powell said. “There’s not much room for error, especially when you’re going and playing these teams in the Pac-12 Tournament. For us, we have to win it honestly to make the NCAA tournament, I think everybody knows that, so we have a good chance we believe but our edges gotta sharpen.”

Head coach Kyle Smith said Powell has come a long way and is most likely the team’s most improved player this year outside of Gueye.

“He’s become a good two-way player, defensively with missed time, he missed like five months where he couldn’t do anything with an injury. He’s got pretty quick feet, he can guard and work good defensively, he’s in the game because he rebounds and he can keep people in front of him and he’s getting better. Pretty responsible human being, which I like, even keel,” Smith said.

Powell leads by example. He is a reserved kind of guy, who is only vocal when he has to be.

In his first year on the Palouse, Powell has become one of the players at the team’s forefront, leading in silence.