Norman Powell Making Friends At Raptors Basketball Academy, Embracing Offseason Training

Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com

Raptors Basketball Academy participants had a special Wednesday session with Norman Powell stopping by for drills, a Q&A session, smiles, and selfies. With ear-to-ear grins all over the gym, it was hard to tell whether the Raptors sophomore or the campers had more fun.

The 23-year-old is coming off a phenomenal rookie season that took him from the bench, to Toronto’s D-League affiliate Raptors 905, to playing a big role in the Raptors’ postseason rotation. Not bad for a guy who felt slighted on Draft night when he was was still on the board late in the second round before getting selected 46th overall by Milwaukee before being dealt to the Raptors. After putting up a stellar performance in Las Vegas summer league in 2015, it was more of the same for Powell in Vegas this year.

While he impressed on the floor, averaging 19.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and one steal per game, Powell himself was most concerned with trying to set an example for newly drafted rookie teammates Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam.

“I thought that summer league would be a time for me to improve on my weaknesses,” Powell said. “Talking to the coaches, talking to Masai [Ujiri] and Jeff [Weltman] and Bobby [Webster] about places I can improve and what they’re looking for, it was a chance for me to do that and improve on those points that they want me to focus on.”

Throughout the team’s time in Vegas, Powell talked about wanting to be a leader for his younger teammates. He wanted to improve his ability to find guys for open shots, read the floor, and be a steadying hand when needed.

“I was mainly focused on trying to help the team in the areas that were asked of me,” he said. “This year in summer league it was about showing I can be more of a vocal leader, telling guys what I see, where to go, different plays. Getting them ready with terminology and stuff like that. I think the year I had with the team, making it to the Eastern Conference Finals really helped do that. Seeing Kyle [Lowry], he was talkative no matter what was happening in the game, whether we were down or up, he was talking to the team, keeping everyone focused and engaged. That’s what I was trying to do in summer league.”

Leading by example comes naturally to Powell. Going from the rookie who is soaking up everything around him like a sponge, to the guy who is speaking up and giving advice is still an adjustment, though. His time in Vegas was a good opportunity to get some experience at no longer being the rookie on the team. It also served as a two-week bonding experience with the rest of the summer league squad, as well as providing the first chance to get to know Siakam and Poeltl away from the court.

“It was really fun,” Powell said. “Those guys are really motivated. I knew Jakob from college so I’m little familiar with him and how he plays. He’s a really good guy off the court. Really focused, really determined, really hungry, and really coachable. I’ve just spent one year in the league, but he’s already asking me about different things, where he can improve, what to look for, what to be prepared for. Even though I only saw Pascal a little bit I’m really excited. He’s really athletic, really versatile from what I saw. He runs, jumps, can shoot the ball a little bit and is a great guy off the court. I’m really excited to get to know him next season.”

Now entering his second season, Powell has already endeared himself to Toronto with his work ethic, fearlessness on the floor, and hunger for success. Getting to make appearances at camps and events with children will always mean a lot to Powell, who remembers other players like Elton Brand and Brandon Roy doing the same for him when he was growing up. Getting to do so after receiving so much love from the fanbase all season makes these moments mean even more.

“I’m a big believer of giving back to the younger generation because I was in their shoes too.,” Powell said. “It means the world. I remember guys coming to different camps, and talking to guys I looked up to. It’s always good to give back. You never know who you’re going to connect with while talking with them, who is going to carry on what you’re saying, take it to heart, have it motivate them to get to where you are and to do better than you.

“Growing up, my mom and family and friends really helped and mentored me, so I feel like it’s my job and my duty to try to be that type of mentor to the younger kids. Especially being out here in Toronto, you see the fanbase and the little kids, how excited they are to see you. That’s an amazing feeling. That’s just from a basketball standpoint. Sitting down and talking to the kids, they’re really smart. They’re really knowing what’s going on, asking you a bunch of tough questions and I love it. It’s so great to see the game of basketball growing everywhere. In Canada, in Toronto, but around the world, basketball is spreading and people are tuning in and wanting to be a part of it. To see the little kids just having fun, running around, enjoying the game, it’s amazing to see. It takes you back to when you were a kid.”

After finishing up in Toronto, Powell’s schedule will take him to Tim Grgurich’s NBA camp, then he will return to San Diego and Los Angeles to work out with trainers and up the intensity on his conditioning to be in peak shape for when he returns to Toronto in advance of training camp to get in on-court work with Raptors assistants Jerry Stackhouse and Jama Mahlalela.

While there are not any big vacation plans on the horizon, Powell’s already got his off-court excitement planned out. Unlike many NBAer’s leisurely summer plans, the rollercoasters at Six Flags are calling his name instead.

“’I’ve got to do that,” Powell said. “[The rollercoaster] X2 was my favourite ride. I’ve got to do that, go to Universal Studios. Stay local, hang out with friends and family.”

Despite this sounding like the opposite of downtime, it also feels somewhat appropriate, considering the thrilling rise of Powell’s rookie season.

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