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Powers progresses
Georgia Southern senior point guard Willie Powers, 50, goes up and under a Chattanooga defender during a men's basketball game at Hanner Fieldhouse in this Dec. 1, 2011, file photo.

    Willie Powers III has started in all 19 of Georgia Southern’s men’s basketball games, but GSU head coach Charlton Young says “no one has seen the real Willie Powers yet.”
    Powers, a 6-foot-2, 197-pound senior point guard, missed most of GSU’s 2008-09 basketball season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He missed all of the Eagles’ 2010-11 season after tearing the medial collateral ligament and meniscus in his right knee during an offseason workout.
    “I have good days and bad days. I feel like an old man,” Powers said. “It was the right knee (MCL) last year and the left knee (ACL) during my sophomore year. I couldn’t walk for two months (after surgery on the right knee). The meniscus is the reason I couldn’t walk on it, because they repaired it instead of just taking it out. My left one, I just tore my ACL, so I was walking again the next week. This one (right knee), I was on crutches for two months.”
    This season, Powers has led GSU in scoring in four games. He is third on the team in scoring, averaging 11.2 points per game. He has shown flashes of his old form, like on Dec. 30 in Auburn, Ala., when he scored a season-high 23 points in GSU’s 78-75 loss to Auburn.
    “I just think that was a glimpse of me,” Powers said of his potential. “I think I just felt good then. I’m still trying to get back on my feet to where I feel normal again. Like I said, I have some good days where I feel good again, and some days where it’s just tough.”
    Young said there will be no doubt when Powers returns to his old form.
    “When Willie’s back, we’ll all know it because he’s an 18-point, nine-assist guy,” Young said. “If you look at his box scores (during the 2009-10 season), the last 10 games of the season, he ripped this league in half. He was 20 ( points) and 10 (rebounds).
    “Right now, he’s still trying to get his bearings. It’s the equivalent of retiring. (The most recent injury) was two years ago. It’s like trying to come out of retirement. You’ve got to have your motor skills. It takes time to get your rhythm and your speed and your timing.
    "Mentally, you’re still scared when you get in a crowd. ‘Can I come out of there and not hurt?’ He’s battling it a bunch.”
    Powers, a Gainesville, Fla., native, leads the Eagles in free-throw percentage (49 of 59, .831 percent), free throws made (49), assists (5.2 per game) and turnovers (2.8 per game).
    GSU (8-11, 6-3) will play Samford (5-13, 2-5) at 8 tonight in Birmingham, Ala. The Eagles beat the Bulldogs, 58-53, on Jan. 12 at Hanner Fieldhouse.
    “Road conference games are always tough, especially against a Samford team and their system, the way they play,” Powers said. “They’re always going to be tough.”
    Powers said the worst part about both of his knee injuries was not the initial pain but the pain from rehabilitation.
    “That was the worst thing I’ve ever been a part of,” he said of the injury that cost him last season. “Having to sit out … rehab was the worst part. When I hurt it, I went down. I knew I tore it just like the last time. But the rehab process is the worst. It’s the worst thing you can be a part of.”
    Powers said thoughts of his teammates motivated him to endure months of grueling rehabilitation exercises.
    “Getting back on the court this year, I knew we would have a good team, just watching our team from last year,” he said. “We had a whole bunch of freshmen and only like two upperclassmen. We had walk-ons starting and playing. I knew this team would be good this year.”
    Powers said Young frequently talks with him about leaving a legacy. Young said he often asks Powers what his legacy will be.
    “I think (senior guard) Ben Drayton and Willie Powers, they are championship people,” Young said. “If you look at their numbers, they will be two of the greatest people ever to play here.
    "But I told them, ‘Nobody cares unless you win a championship.’ And I think they have really fought to help mold these young guys off the court. Willie and Ben, you go to the apartments at night, they’re in there and they’ve got the game tape. And they’re watching the film.”
    Young said he promised Powers and Drayton that years from now, when they return to GSU, they will see the impact they left on the program.
    “I told both of them, ‘When you leave here, and I hope we win a championship, but if we don’t, when you come back here with your families, you two guys are going to be plastered all over these walls, if I have to go to Wal-Mart and buy frames myself.’” Young said.

    Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.