On some levels, it can be said that first-year La Salle coach Ashley Howard did not owe anything to Pookie Powell.
Not only was Powell a senior in 2017-18, but he was also a senior who had used up the five-year clock granted to student-athletes by the NCAA.
For the guard to play another season at 20th and Olney, the university — more specifically, Howard — would have had to initiate a request on his behalf to the NCAA for an extension for the sixth year of eligibility. It's a hard standard to meet, with the school having to prove that the player was deprived of more than one season of competition because of circumstances beyond his or her control.
Howard could have easily determined that he wanted to start his program fresh and not deal with the complications of fighting for an extra year for a player he did not recruit and never coached.
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But as an assistant coach at Villanova, Howard had seen what kind of player Powell was for the Explorers through Big 5 competition. Instead of a burden, Howard saw Powell as a veteran leader, the type of player he wanted to help get his fledgling program off the ground.
He went to the NCAA for Powell and in August received the news that the waiver had been approved for him to play as a graduate student.
"It was a long process, but we got through it," said Powell, who has averaged 15.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 54 career games for the Explorers. "As soon as Coach Ash got here, we had a meeting and he told me he would do whatever he could to get that sixth year for me. I said to myself, 'This man is willing to stick his head out for me.'
"He, this staff, and this university did a lot for me over the summer to get that sixth year, and I really thank them for that."
An ESPN Top 100 player at Dr. Phillips School in Orlando, Powell signed with Memphis but sat out the 2013-14 season as a redshirt. However, that started the NCAA clock for him to complete four seasons in five calendar years. He played in 2014-15 for the Tigers, but then transferred to La Salle and sat out the 2015-16 season because of transfer rules.
Once eligible to play, Powell was an immediate impact player for the Explorers. He scored a career-high 27 points against Villanova in December 2016.
"We look forward to having Pookie on the court for us this season," Howard said. "He is such a good kid and a hard worker. He deserves to finish out his collegiate career the right way."
For Powell, that would include helping the Explorers get to the NCAA tournament for just the second time since 1992.
Having been a part of two NCAA-championship teams at Villanova, Howard has brought a vibe of positive anticipation to La Salle.
"We know where he comes from and his history," Powell said. "He's won championships, so he's obviously doing something right. Coach Ash comes in real energetic. He doesn't treat anyone different. You have to respect a man like that. He just wants everybody to do the right thing – play together, play smart. You can't argue with that."
Powell said he is grateful to former La Salle coach John Giannini, but he hopes that Howard's championship resume can propel the Explorers to a new height in what will definitely be his final season in college.
"We're just trying to listen to him, work hard, and do the things we need to start to win," Powell said. "I've never been to the NCAA Tournament, never been to an [Atlantic 10] conference final game and get chosen. We've all got just one goal this year, and that's to make it to the tournament."