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Freshman Powers key to Eagles to strong start
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    When Georgia Southern came knocking, Willie Powers knew exactly what he was getting into.
    The 6-foot-1, 190-pound freshman guard was well-versed when it came to the Eagles thanks to two reliable sources – friend and former GSU standout Terry Williams and Powers’ high school coach, Mark Griseck.
    Powers and Williams are both products of P.K. Yonge High School in Gainesville, Fla., and Griseck is a high school friend of Eagle coach Jeff Price. Along with their recommendations, a few trips to Statesboro to watch the Eagles play was all Powers needed to make a decision.
Powers, also eyed by Southern Conference foes Appalachian State, College of Charleston and Furman, liked the environment at GSU and wanted to be close enough to home to allow his family to see him play.
    “We’ve got a little pipeline with that situation, and obviously – it’s early right now – but (Powers) certainly working out real well,” Price said.
    Well, indeed.
    The precocious freshman has made a seamless transition into Georgia Southern’s starting lineup and is currently the team’s top scorer with 14 points a game. Powers is coming off a career night in Monday’s home win over Mercer when pouring out personal bests in points (26) and rebounds (seven).
His contributions have helped the Eagles to a 5-1 start – their best since 1992-93 under former coach Frank Kerns. They’ll look to extend their five-game winning streak today in a 3 p.m. game home game against SoCon rival Appalachian State.
    “Up to this point, he’s been a really solid player,” Price said. “I compare him somewhat (to former guard) Donte Gennie. Willie’s not a real flashy player, but it you look at the numbers he played (31) minutes against Mercer (without) a turnover. I think that’s what we miss about him a little bit. We tend to look at the numbers and the points and not the other things that he does.”
    Senior forward Louis Graham considers Powers “a character” and said the freshman reminds him of Williams because of the way he shoots and passes.
“To me he doesn’t look like a freshman,” Graham said. “Right now he’s playing like a sophomore or a junior, and that’s what we are going to need out of him this year.”
    Price approached Graham and Foreman during the preseason and asked for the seniors’ help with assisting Powers’ progression. The seniors listened but didn’t have a ton of work to do.
    “Right now I think he’s coming along by himself, so I’m pretty impressed,” Graham said. “He’s a great player on and off the court, and I’m loving playing with him.”
    So what is it about Powers’ off the court that makes him such a character?
    “You hang around him and he’s going to make you laugh,” Graham said. “Those are the type of guys you need to build a team around. He’s a great person.”
    Powers didn’t exactly foresee himself working his way into the starting lineup so quickly, but didn’t surprise Graham one bit.
    “Coming in, especially as a freshman, I didn’t expect to play this much because the summer was pretty tough for me, and I had to adjust to a lot of things,” he said. “But it’s been a pleasant surprise, and I’m liking it right now.”
    What was the biggest adjustment?
    “Going hard at all times,” Powers said. “Sometimes at practice in high school you take plays off, but you really can’t do that here because everyone is good. Coach is really stressing us getting better, so you have to go hard at all times.”
    Powers is on pace to join Graham and former GSU standouts Julius Jenkins, Frank Bennett and Williams as Eagles who’ve made sizable impacts as freshman during Price’s nine years at the helm.
    “We are only six games into the season, but he is probably further ahead (than) what I thought,” Price said. “He just plays with a tremendous poise and seems very relaxed on the court.”
    Powers has blended well with returning starters Dwayne Foreman and Graham, veteran Matt Fields and newcomer Julian Allen, who round out GSU’s starting five.
    “We’ve been fortunate (in that) our chemistry’s been very good,” Price said. “Willie’s a good kid, so he’s going to pretty much fit in with anybody. Obviously he’s comfortable.”
    Said Powers, “We have a great group of guys here, especially the seniors. They’ve made me feel at home since the start. We’re like a big family.”
    Powers is hoping Georgia Southern can make a few appearances in the NCAA tournament during his career.
    “Hopefully we can bring success back to Georgia Southern,” he said. “We had an off year last year, and we really want to bring it back this year.”
    In the immediate future, GSU will have its focus on Appalachian State, which has won four straight over the Eagles. Georgia Southern’s last win over the Mountaineers was a 92-88 victory at Hanner Fieldhouse in January 2005, and the teams haven’t met since Appalachian handed the Eagles a 22-point home loss last February. Graham is expecting a dogfight this afternoon.
    “We always have really tough games with App,” Price said. “They won 25 games last year, so it’s an early, very important conference game. It’s going to be a really good game, and we are going to have to play well. They are good inside, have good balance, shoot it well and have got experience.”

Lady Eagles host
USC Upstate
    The Lady Eagles will look to halt a three-game skid today at noon when they host non-conference foe USC Upstate in a noon game. Georgia Southern (2-5) is coming off a 62-56 loss at Davidson in its SoCon opener Thursday and is led by senior guard Shawnda Atwood (12.4 points per game) and junior guard Ashley Melson (11.3 ppg). USC Upstate (2-4) is playing its first season in the Atlantic Sun Conference.

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at