“I love Coach with all my heart”: Myles Powell credits Willard for development, Draft process

NEW YORK — Amidst all the preseason hype surrounding Myles Powell and Seton Hall, it’s easy to forget the Pirates’ star player almost jumped ship for the NBA Draft in the spring.

Like Isaiah Whitehead and Angel Delgado before him, Myles had a massive decision to make while out in California for pre-draft workouts.

Now at the apex of a preseason media storm that has Seton Hall in many top-15’s and at the top of the Big East coaches poll, and Powell the league’s preseason player of the year as well as a national player of the year candidate, Powell isn’t regretting anything about sticking around.

“It’s truly an honor,” said Powell of the Big East individual accolade. 

“They said they [Seton Hall] haven’t seen a preseason player of the year since ’93 [Terry Dehere]. Just to be mentioned with those names, it’s truly a blessing.

“The great players that I’ve played with, especially Angel Delgado, for him not to get picked preseason player of the year and all the things that he accomplished at our school and the things that he did in our league– for me to be preseason player of the year, little things like that that people tend to forget about but I don’t, it’s truly an honor and a blessing.”

Powell is following in Delgado’s footsteps in the sense that he flirted with the NBA before returning for a senior year that should threaten all sorts of Seton Hall records, both as an individual and team.

Unlike Angel, Myles is by far the center of attention in South Orange. Enough of a known commodity that he’s been plastered on eight billboards across the state, as seen featured on social media recently.

That post, an emotional one, was only the tip of the iceberg of what Powell is feeling at this point in his career and his life.

Humble. Blessed. Thankful. Yet still hungry for more.

“That’s a dream come true,” said Powell of being blindsided by the highway billboard.

“Especially coming from where I come from, if you’re ever driving around and you look up you always see billboards. That one caught me off guard because I didn’t know it came out yet.

“When I seen it, I got teary-eyed. It’s just a blessing, what my brother’s going through, where I come from, my family– just being a kid from Trenton.

“To come out and do all this and to play with all the players I’ve played with … There’s a lot of other good guys coming from Jersey and for me to be the one up on the billboard, it means so much to me.”

In all likelihood, Myles wouldn’t have his image on the side of a highway for millions to see if he bolted for the draft.

For the third time in recent history, Kevin Willard played a major role in a player’s choice to stay or go without pressuring him to stay — far from it.

“I was very close [to leaving], but Coach Willard helped me a lot. When I went in there and first told him that I wanted to do it, he said ‘Okay well if you’re going to do it, you need to do it like you’re staying in.'”

“So already right there I had it in my mind that I wasn’t coming back to school. I was out there in California getting ready for my pro day and I just needed somebody to lean on. Coach Willard was the first person I called of course.

“I just told him that I needed him there. He hung up and called me back in about 30 minutes and he said ‘I’ll be there tomorrow afternoon and we’re going to go out to dinner’ and he was out there in a couple hours. For somebody that I can call and rely on like that, it meant a lot to me.”

Having asked Myles the questions about the billboard and his draft process, I could really sense his sincerity and the emotion he was putting behind everything he said. These weren’t just talking points.

“I was still in the group chat, I was still talking to my brothers every day. We were talking about the bad taste still in our mouth from losing the [BIG EAST] Championship and from losing to Wofford in the first round, especially wanting to play Kentucky again,” continued Powell.

“I felt like there was still a piece missing, I was still feeling unaccomplished. I had to come back to school for basketball and I’ll be the first person in my family to graduate so for me to be the first person and to say that I graduated and I have a diploma in my family, it’s bigger than me and it means so much more to me than the basketball part.”

“Truly deep down in my heart I feel like I made the right decision, watching how the draft went and a couple friends that I have pretty much not playing in the NBA. The NBA isn’t going nowhere, at the end of the day I feel like I made the best decision for my career.”

A couple years ago, Angel Delgado spoke of how Willard was the first person he called when he decided to return to South Orange — Powell’s bond with his coach has reached another level. His words.

“I didn’t think we could get any closer, but I was wrong. I feel like this summer, we took that final step for Coach Willard being my backbone.

“With him helping me get through that process. For him taking a month and a half off from his family to go out to Peru [Pan Am Games] and spend that time with not only me and Myles [Cale], but other kids in the Big East.

“It shows how much Coach really cares about the conference and the kids he’s dealing with. Coach has given me his last (sic), and he knows that I’ve given him my last. I’ve got his back just like he’s got mine. I love Coach with all my heart and that’ll be my guy for life.”

Powell couldn’t help but heap praise upon his coach for how he helped him out during the draft process, but like a pass first point guard, Kevin Willard was modest about his role.

“The NBA has done an unbelievable job of giving the kids correct information. All I did, my job with Myles and his family was that they were taking the information and using the information to not make an emotional decision but to make an informed decision,” explained Willard.

“As we sat down the last day in California, it wasn’t an emotional decision, it was an informed decision.

“With his mom and his father, I made a promise that I would make sure that I’d be there with him. I wanted to be there for his pro day, he was excited about it, he wanted me there. It was also important for his father, his father wanted me there. It wasn’t just me, it was a family decision, it was Myles’ decision and we wanted to make sure we made the right decision.”

When asked if he would be the man he is today if not for Myles Powell?

“Not at all. Everyday in practice he has a level of enthusiasm that is contagious,” gushed Willard. “As a coach and as a person, we’ve been through a lot together. We’ve grown together and I think that’s why he is where he is and I think that’s why this program is where it is.

“The greatest thing about Myles Powell is that he’s as humble today as when I recruited him in high school. He wants to make it, every day he shows up and works hard. His attitude hasn’t changed, his demeanor hasn’t change, he’s as good a teammate as he was a freshman.

“Ever since he stepped foot in our program, he’s been a young man who has represented us at the highest level. He’s going to be the first of his family to graduate from college. He’s someone who would give his shoes away to someone in the stands just because he sees them. He’s been, for me, like a third son.”

Calm and collected, all facts and no emotions. How could there not be an emotional aspect of Willard’s father-like mentoring of Powell through the draft process? You’ve read the quotes, this wasn’t your typical star player wants to move onto the next level scenario.

I asked Willard if it felt like he might lose his “third son” to the league over the summer.

“It’s a weird feeling and no one is going to believe this but you’re hoping you’re going to get information that he can go pro. You’re hoping his dream comes true.

“You don’t want to sit down at breakfast and have the reality talk and say ‘It’s just not your time yet.’ That’s hard when you have to sit there and have that talk. That’s a little heartbreaking for a kid.

“I’d much rather would have said ‘Here’s the information, we think you’re going to get drafted 42nd, you have to go.’ I would have loved that conversation. 

“The biggest thing that I balanced was making sure he understood, ‘Look, the fact that we’re in this position, the fact that you’re in this position is great. It shows you how far you’ve come as a player, but we haven’t completed the process.’ That was the hardest thing for me.”

Spoken like a true father-figure. Someone thrilled to see a loved one move onto the next challenge, but also delighted to see the current chapter last just a little bit longer.

That chapter still has quite a few empty pages to fill while the plot thickens as we inch closer to opening night.

For now, a star player is genuinely content to make his senior year unforgettable for himself, his family, his coach, and his fans.

“I wouldn’t be the Myles Powell I am today if it wasn’t for Kevin Willard,” said Powell. “I’m not afraid to say that and I’ll say that to every reporter in here. I’ll say it again: I wouldn’t be the Myles Powell I am today without Kevin Willard.”

“When I saw that billboard going into practice, I just gave him [Willard] a big hug and kind of melted in his arms and just said ‘Thank you Coach’ — none of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for him believing in the fat kid that was 250 pounds three years ago.”