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Jan 30, 2013 12:11am
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STANFORD, Calif. Frank Gore Super bowl Jersey . —One of the
most important road trips the Stanford mens basketball team will have made this
season never shows up on the schedule, in the teams record or total miles
travelled. In September, the Cardinal gathered around to support one of their
own after junior forward Dwight Powell lost his mother. The coaches and several
players flew to Toronto for the funeral. Jacqueline Weir died on Sept. 13 in
Boston after a short fight with cancer, three months shy of her 54th birthday.
Powells coaches visited the hospital in the Boston area, where Weir worked and
lived. And Stanford received permission from the NCAA to fly the players from
Powells recruiting class to Canada to be there for him at the memorial. “It was
important, for sure,” Powell said. “My friends in my life are my family. The
team is my family, so it meant a lot for them to come out there. I have a really
good support group in Toronto as well, some guys I played with in high school.”
Coach Johnny Dawkins realizes the importance of everyone supporting Powell, an
only child attending college so far from home. Dawkins already had a close-knit
group on the reigning NIT champions, who hope last seasons special run is only a
preview of bigger things for the program this March in the NCAA tournament.
Stanford hasnt been since 2008, and not yet under fifth-year coach Dawkins.
Powell will be an integral part in getting Stanford there. Keeping him in the
right frame of mind as he continues to mourn his mother has been a joint effort.
Dawkins considers the trip to Toronto one that showed Powell just how much
support—and how many brothers—he has within his own locker room, and on
campus. “Absolutely,” Dawkins said. “Thats what its about. It was very
unfortunate what happened to his mom, and very sudden. It really puts it in
perspective when something happens to a young man and a family. The players
understand that. His teammates and his coaches are a big part of his life. Its
important to rally around him.” The Cardinal (6-3) are finishing up their annual
two-week break for final exams before returning to the court to host UC Davis on
Saturday, the first of four remaining nonconference games ahead of Pac-12 play.
Stanford is picked fourth in the conference. Powell has led Stanford in scoring
three times already, including going off for a career-high 29 points in a 71-58
victory against Denver on Dec. 2. He is averaging 14.2 points per game, second
to Chasson Randles 14.7, while also pulling down 6.9 rebounds. “This is the best
place for me to be right now. First of all, its a different country, so I dont
even have too much family except for the team,” Powell said. “I cant really
think of anyone else Id rather lean on right now than my teammates. Regardless
of what goes on, they can take my mind off things. They can put my mind on the
things I need to think about sometimes and help me talk things out, just be
there. “I feel very lucky to have the team that I have, just for that reason. It
also translates onto the court, that closeness, that trust.” The 6-foot-10,
235-pound Powell always felt comfortable on The Farm and in the Bay Area. He
chose Stanford over Harvard and Georgia Tech. Yet Powell was a late bloomer when
it came to basketball, first playing volleyball and competing in the high jump
in track. Once Powell picked up hoops, he moved to Florida at age 16 to attend
the IMG Academy and prepare for college. He emerged as an impact player late
last season for Stanford, averaging 8.8 points and 5.8 rebounds during the
Cardinals five-game NIT title run while shooting 65.4 per cent from the field.
He started just 11 times but played in 35 games and averaged 5.8 points and 4.6
rebounds overall. Powells biggest challenge so far with an increased role and
more responsibility has been keeping his emotions in check. In a 70-62 loss to
Belmont at home in Maples Pavilion on Nov. 18, Powell fouled out in only seven
minutes—sitting down for good early in the second half. “Hes playing with a
heightened focus,” Dawkins said. “Hes just so focused right now that my biggest
thing is that he stays level and doesnt get too emotional. I talk to him a lot
about it and how you approach the game—never get too high or too low.” Powell
attended Canada Basketballs senior mens national team training camp in late
August in Toronto. By the time he returned to Boston to see his mom, she was
hospitalized and deteriorating quickly. The breast cancer had spread to her
liver. “I think she had a feeling for a couple of months but she didnt want to
burden me,” Powell said. “She kind of left it unattended.” Teammate and roommate
Josh Huestis was the one to tell Powell he would have dear friends coming to
Canada to help him in the grieving process. “Were all really close with Dwight.
Hes one of my best friends,” Huestis said. “Our coaches talked to us and
proposed that we go out there for the funeral. All the guys thought it was a
great idea. I cant imagine what he was going through. It was the right move. He
was in Toronto and I had been talking to him. I told him we would be coming out
there and he was really thankful for that, just to have some familiar faces
around, especially in such a hard time.” Its no surprise that before and after
each practice Stanfords players gather for a cheer of “Family!” These guys truly
consider themselves brothers. That Toronto trip only helped cement the bond.
“The fact we were able to go out there just brings us so much closer together,”
Huestis said. “It shows were not just a team but a family, too.” The Cardinal
were thrilled to capture a national championship and get the taste of winning
their final game, but both Powell and Huestis called it “bittersweet.” There
have been many important messages for this bunch over the past year. Earlier
this season, Stanford shot a video in the locker room after practice and sent it
to NFL star Ray Lewis, who paid the team a surprise visit at Madison Square
Garden and delivered a spirited speech before the NIT semifinal game against
Massachusetts. The Cardinal players wanted to encourage the injured Ravens
linebacker and spiritual leader in his rehab from a torn triceps after he did so
much to pump them up before a key game. Stanford went on for a commanding win
against Minnesota in the championship game. Not that Powell needs much to
inspire him at the moment. Huestis sure wont question his teammates motivation.
“The passing of his mom put everything in perspective for him. Nothings given in
life, nothing guaranteed,” Huestis said. “Obviously his mom is in the forefront
of his mind.” Exactly, Powell said. “Everything I do is in her memory,” he said,
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