UK Recruiting

Kentucky kid begins Nike play with a three-point barrage. UK has been in touch.

In-state basketball star Justin Powell talks recruiting

North Oldham High School basketball player Justin Powell got off to a great start on the Nike circuit, scoring 26 points and making all six of his three-pointers in his debut Saturday.
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North Oldham High School basketball player Justin Powell got off to a great start on the Nike circuit, scoring 26 points and making all six of his three-pointers in his debut Saturday.

It has been a long few months for Justin Powell, one of the brightest young basketball stars in Kentucky.

Part of his journey took him outside the state, but Powell is now back home, preparing for his senior season and getting used to being back on the court facing off against top competition.

He was all smiles after his debut on the Nike circuit Saturday morning, and for good reason.

Powell, a 6-foot-5, 180-pound guard from Louisville, scored 26 points and made all six of his three-point attempts in Indy Heat’s 103-55 victory over Team BABC.

It was one of his first organized basketball games since last summer.

“It was a long break, but it’s definitely rewarding being back out there, and it felt good,” Powell told the Herald-Leader. “It was just fun getting out there and running with the guys again.”

Powell popped up on the national recruiting radar early into his high school career at Louisville Trinity, and — as a sophomore — he averaged 11.4 points per game for the Shamrocks, making a team-high 64 three-pointers and shooting 50.8 percent from long range. He helped lead Trinity to a 30-4 record and a spot in the Sweet Sixteen in Rupp Arena.

The future looked bright for his Kentucky high school career, and then he decided to transfer to Montverde Academy, a Florida-based powerhouse that plays a national schedule and is led by legendary high school coach Kevin Boyle, who has tutored a long list of future NBA players.

That move didn’t last long. By winter break, Powell was back in the Bluegrass.

“I love the coaching staff down there. I love the school,” he said of Montverde. “They wanted me to go down there, which I did. I loved basketball down there. Loved it. I just got a little homesick and wanted to come home and be with my family. That’s all I wanted to do. So I came back. I wanted to be comfortable.”

Powell settled in at North Oldham High School, though he wasn’t able to play during his junior season. On the brink of top-50 status in the national recruiting rankings before his transfer, Powell’s nearly yearlong absence from the court knocked him down about 100 spots. He entered this past weekend as the No. 150 overall player in 247Sports’ rankings for 2020, and he’s not ranked by either or ESPN.

That could be changing very soon.

Powell averaged 15.8 points per game and made 10 of 17 three-point attempts during the first weekend of Nike play. He’s looking forward to continuing that success this spring and summer, and carrying that over into his senior campaign at North Oldham.

He listed Auburn, Tennessee, Georgia Tech and Xavier as the main schools that have been pursuing him to this point. Powell also described himself as a combo guard who would play whatever backcourt spot is needed at his next destination.

“The 1-2, kind of a combo. Whatever fits the system, I’ll go and I’ll play. I don’t really have a set position,” he said. “But whatever they need me for, I’ll play it. … I’m a facilitator. I like finding my teammates. I like shooting threes, obviously. But I just like facilitating and finding my teammates when they’re open.”

In addition to the four schools he mentioned, Powell has also been hearing from Kentucky.

UK hosted him for an unofficial visit on the day of the Wildcats’ home victory over Tennessee, and assistant coach Joel Justus has stayed in contact.

“They’ve been coming at me a little bit,” Powell said. “Obviously, it’s a great program — big blue-blood program. And they’re obviously the best of the best. So it would be pretty cool.”

There won’t be any sentimental pull in his recruitment, however.

The Wildcats weren’t Powell’s favorite team as a kid. It wasn’t nearby U of L either. “I was actually a Syracuse fan growing up,” he said, noting that both his mother and father are originally from New York — Buffalo and Albany, respectively — and the Orange are the team that his family follows most.

If UK (or U of L, or anyone else) wants to get serious about Powell’s recruitment, it might be wise to start the process now. He said he plans to take some college visits toward the end of the summer and come up with a college decision shortly after that, in time to sign during the fall period.

“It’s the most ideal thing for me,” Powell said. “But I’m just kind of playing it by ear right now.”