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Washington State guard Justin Powell opts to stay in NBA draft pool, end collegiate career

Former Washington State guard Justin Powell attempts a 3-pointer during a Pac-12 Conference game against Arizona State on Jan. 28 at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman.  (WSU Athletics)

PULLMAN – Justin Powell made a surprise decision, opting to pursue a professional career after one season at Washington State.

Powell will stay in the NBA draft pool and end his collegiate career, according to a report Wednesday evening from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony.

The 6-foot-6 guard started every game for the Cougars last season, serving as the team’s primary point guard, and posted per-game averages of 10.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

He declared for the draft on March 28 but left the door open for a return to WSU.

It seemed likely that Powell would withdraw from the draft pool and spend his senior year in Pullman. His name hasn’t shown up on any mock draft boards during the offseason – he is not included in ESPN’s rankings of the top 100 NBA draft prospects – and WSU coach Kyle Smith said recently that he expected the Cougars to have Powell back next season.

“I feel pretty confident about that one,” Smith said when asked about Powell’s odds of returning. “For him, I think it’s more about going through the process (receiving feedback from NBA teams). He’s got a really good agent and a lot of workouts (with NBA teams). It’d be healthy for him to come back and build upon what he did last year. I think he needs it and we need it. It’s a good match.”

Powell worked out for several NBA organizations over the past two months and conducted a pro day in front of scouts last month in Chicago. He apparently heard enough during auditions to feel convinced that he was ready for the pros.

Powell told ESPN that he’d “received positive feedback from NBA teams during the predraft process,” according to Givony’s report.

A four-star recruit out of high school in Kentucky, Powell began his collegiate career at Auburn. He appeared in 10 games and made seven starts with the Tigers before suffering a season-ending injury. Powell transferred to Tennessee and spent the 2021-22 season as a role player with the Volunteers, averaging 3.7 points in 14.1 minutes per game.

Powell transferred to WSU in search of an expanded playing role. He emerged as the team’s top passer and one of its most efficient shooters. He led the Cougars with 96 assists against just 32 turnovers. Powell shot 40.8% from the field and finished second on the team in 3-point percentage, hitting 78 of 183 attempts (42.6%) .

Powell is the second WSU player this offseason to end his college career in favor of an NBA opportunity, joining Mouhamed Gueye.

But Gueye’s decision didn’t come as a surprise.

The 6-11 post captured All-Pac-12 first-team honors last season as a sophomore after averaging 14.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Gueye is the No. 50 prospect for the NBA draft, per ESPN’s rankings.

With Powell and Gueye off the roster, WSU has two scholarship spots available.

The Cougars will likely search for a veteran guard who can help offset the loss of Powell.

Four regular starters in WSU’s 2022-23 starting lineup have left the team since the end of the season – Powell, Gueye, guard TJ Bamba and forward DJ Rodman.

Bamba, the team’s leading scorer last season, transferred to Villanova.

Rodman, who appeared in 111 games for WSU over the past four seasons, will spend his final season of eligibility at USC.

The Cougars have added three transfer recruits over the past two months – combo guard Joseph Yesufu, who appeared in 69 games for Kansas over the past two seasons; Isaac Jones, a 6-9 post out of Idaho who earned an All-Big Sky nod last year after averaging 19.4 points per game; and Jaylen Wells, a 6-7 wing from Sonoma (California) State, who landed on the Division II All-America team last season after scoring 22.1 points per game.