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Sports >  WSU basketball

Washington State secures another recruiting victory in rollercoaster offseason, signs Tennessee transfer guard Justin Powell

June 7, 2022 Updated Tue., June 7, 2022 at 7:32 p.m.

Justin Powell poses for a photo at Washington State. The 6-foot-6 guard signed with WSU on Tuesday after transferring out of Tennessee.  (WSU Athletics)
Justin Powell poses for a photo at Washington State. The 6-foot-6 guard signed with WSU on Tuesday after transferring out of Tennessee. (WSU Athletics)
By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

A rollercoaster ride of an offseason for Washington State’s basketball program began on bumpy tracks, but the Cougars are cruising smoothly to the finish.

One scholarship spot remains open on WSU’s 2022-23 roster after yet another promising addition. The Cougs received a signature Tuesday from Tennessee transfer Justin Powell, a 6-foot-6 combo guard and one of the top available players in the portal. Powell has three years of eligibility remaining.

His commitment to WSU was reported within minutes after news broke that big man Mouhamed Gueye will return to Pullman for his sophomore year.

The first month of WSU’s recruiting season was marked with uncertainty as half of the team’s roster entered the transfer portal. The Cougs lost Michael Flowers, their point guard and leading scorer, to graduation and Tyrell Roberts and Noah Williams – both regulars in the starting lineup – signed with San Francisco and Washington, respectively.

But the Cougars’ backcourt bounced back with a couple of solid recruits – Central Valley High grad Dylan Darling and 6-5 Saint Mary’s transfer Jabe Mullins. WSU’s latest signee is a plug-and-play talent, potentially at point guard. Powell supplements the Cougs’ length at the guard positions – WSU ran into trouble last season when matched up against taller backcourts – and provides reliable ball-handling skills and 3-point shooting.

“He is a proven player at a very high level,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said, quoted in a school news release. “His size in the backcourt (6-6, 197 pounds) and his ability to make plays for himself and others should help us improve offensively. More importantly, playing and contributing for a top-10 program with NCAA experience will add incredible value to our team.”

Powell began his collegiate career at Auburn in 2020-21, starting at point guard in seven of the 10 games he appeared in before sustaining a season-ending head injury. The Kentucky native averaged 11.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists in 28 minutes per game while shooting 44% from 3-point range for the Tigers. He poured in 52 points combined in wins over South Alabama and Memphis in December 2020 and was named the SEC’s freshman of the week.

Powell’s impressive start caught the attention of NBA scouts, and his name began to appear on mock drafts. But the injury derailed his rookie year and Powell entered the transfer portal just after the season wrapped up.

He never settled into a role at Tennessee, appearing in 30 games off the bench at shooting guard last season and averaging 3.7 points, 1.5 rebounds and 0.7 assists in 14 minutes of action per game. Powell shot 38% from 3-point range and went 5 for 5 from beyond the arc in his best outing of the season on Nov. 30 against Presbyterian. He played a few minutes in Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament win over Longwood on March 17, then hopped back in the portal April 29.

Powell picked WSU over offers from Kansas State and Georgia Tech, and was considering joining the Perth Wildcats of Australia’s NBL Next Star program, according to ESPN. Instead, he’s planning to be an offensive focal point for a Cougar team that is eyeing an NCAA Tournament berth.

“I was looking for opportunity,” he told ESPN analyst Jonathan Givony, “going somewhere I can have the ball in my hands and showcase what I can do like I did my first year in college. Playing in an NBA offense in terms of pick-and-roll concepts and spacing was important. Washington State led the Pac-12 in 3-pointers attempted and they had several departures in the backcourt, which left a big void there that I can hopefully step into. I’m going into it with the mindset of working hard and everything will work out. I’ll try to be a good leader and hopefully help the team make it to the NCAA Tournament.”

A touted prep point guard, Powell earned a four-star ranking from ESPN as a senior at North Oldham High in Goshen, Kentucky. He was the state’s top prospect and the No. 76 recruit in the country, per ESPN. Powell played his first two high school seasons at Trinity High in Louisville, Kentucky, before transferring to Montverde Academy in Florida. He sat out most of his junior season at North Oldham after moving back to his home state in 2018. Powell averaged 22.2 points and 8.5 rebounds as a senior before undergoing season-ending sports-hernia surgery in January 2020.

In the span of a month, WSU’s offseason has gone from bleak to bright. With Powell signing on, the Cougars’ lineup comes into clearer focus.

Despite its offseason defections, WSU’s backcourt is in good shape. Powell and Mullins will pair nicely with returning junior TJ Bamba, a defensive ace, and Myles Rice, a highly regarded freshman who redshirted last year.

Veteran wings Andrej Jakimovski and DJ Rodman are back, and the Cougars’ frontcourt isn’t short on talent and depth between Gueye, junior Dishon Jackson and incoming freshmen Adrame Diongue and Mael Hamon-Crespin.

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