Roger Powell Jr. capped off his collegiate career in style at the Final Four.
In the early minutes of the second half in the national semifinal against Louisville, Illinois guard Powell hit a step-back three-pointer at the top of the key to beat the shot clock. Then, on the Illini’s next possession after grabbing a defensive rebound, he followed his own three-point miss with a tip-dunk that sent the Edward Jones Dome into a frenzy. Powell scored the Illini’s first nine points of the second half en route to the Illini’s 72-57 win.
This series of plays is why many Illini fans remember Roger Powell — aka “the Rev” — with a smile.
Since leaving Champaign, Powell has provided even more reason to make Illini fans proud. While playing professionally, Powell started RPJ Ministries, which offered a three-day, two-night basketball camp for young men of faith.
“It was a very powerful, powerful three days,” Powell said. “A lot of the kids that came were expecting one thing, and when they left they said it was life changing.”
Powell recruited young men with aspirations of playing Division I basketball to the camp, which offered skills development, financial seminars, nutrition talks, Bible study and community outreach.
“It was more than (basketball),” Kyle Anderson, a camp alumnus and junior guard for Delaware, said. “It was more about becoming a better man, becoming a better leader and becoming a man of God, which I think Roger, throughout his whole life, has always thought is far more important than the game of basketball. Basketball doesn’t last forever and the most important thing is to develop into a better man.”
D.J. Bennett, a former camper and redshirt junior at Oklahoma, shared a similar experience.
“I realized that God was the big picture and he made it possible for all this to take place,” Bennett said. “I definitely got more in contact with my religious side. It helped me become more of a team player.”
Powell had to discontinue his RPJ Ministries when he took a full-time coaching position with Valparaiso University. But he said the coaching opportunity has allowed him to continue to help others.
“I know it’s a far-fetched example but you think about how Jesus was with his 12 disciples. Those disciples basically did life with him,” Powell said. “They watched him, they saw how he lived and that had a huge impact on their lives. So I’m looking at that as a coach on the basketball side and the off-the-court side because (players) are around us and everything we do, they see.”
Bruce Weber, head coach of the 2005 Final Four team and current Kansas State head coach, remains proud of his forward.
“He always kept his faith and his beliefs and he continued to work hard,” Weber said. “He’s such a solid, stable person who you really appreciate having on your team and being around and having as a friend.”
Powell chose to end his professional career early to focus on coaching so that he could continue to mold and help others.
“We have a huge responsibility and opportunity to impact young men,” Powell said. “I obviously want to win games, I want to do well, I want to go to the tournament and I want to win national championships, but at the end of the day, if as a coach, I won a national championship and my players’ lives aren’t any better than when they came to our program, then I failed.”