LIMA, Peru -- Attempts to get Seton Hall star Myles Powell to talk about any Big East rivalry jabs during Team USA practices at the 2019 Pan American Games were fruitless.
Powell preferred to focus on what he called a chip on his shoulder while leading the tournament's youngest roster. He showed Big East rivals and Team USA backcourt mates Collin Gillespie of Villanova and guard Alpha Diallo of Providence the proper reverence as they fought for a common goal.
"Everybody can play," Powell said at the beginning of the tournament. "We're in a really good conference and I think we're showing the world that right now."
So jumping two steps ahead to gauge his NBA draft prospects with his senior season ahead of him is a further exercise in futility. If Lima 2019 is any indication, however, and if you listen to those around him at the Pan American Games, he's in for a smooth landing at the next level.
The U.S. men won bronze, falling short of their goal of winning Pan American gold for the first time since 1983. They were at times overwhelmed by a veteran gold-medal winning Argentina squad and a young Puerto Rico team that won silver. Still, Powell showed glimpses of reinforcing his credentials as a top-flight scorer capable of taking over a game.
"He's a helluva player," said U.S. center Geoffrey Groselle, who graduated from Creighton in 2016. "I've played with a lot of good guards, a lot of pro guards, and he could hang with the best of them. He's got a quick trigger, and when he's hot, he's hot. He's not missing."
Powell was hot in a 70-53 preliminary-round victory over Venezuela, scoring a tournament-high 30 points on 9-of-9 shooting from inside the arc. He also scored 19 in the opener and finished in Lima averaging 14.6 points per game, second on the team to Diallo's 15.0.
Powell's reputation as a scorer was established before the Pan American Games. The guard was 13th in the nation in scoring last season at 23.1 points per game -- the highest average in Seton Hall history -- for a team that finished 20-14 and upset Kentucky in December thanks in part to his 28 points. His 107 3-pointers last season are also a school record in one season. Team USA's Ed Cooley, who faces Powell twice a year as Providence's head coach, called him the best shooter in college basketball.
Powell tested the NBA draft waters as allowed under the NCAA but decided to come back for his senior season, leaving Seton Hall poised to make a run at fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance.
I can honestly say I'm so happy with the decision I made to come back to school !!!!!! Drafted or Undrafted next year ... I will have my College Degree something that no one will ever be able to take from me 🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾— Myles Powell (@Myles_MBP_23) June 21, 2019
Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, an assistant under Cooley with Team USA, kept in touch with his guard as he was displaying his talents to NBA teams. The workouts went well, Willard said, and the feedback received was positive.
"It was a great learning experience for Myles on understanding just what he needs to improve on, not only to get to the NBA but most importantly to stay in the NBA," Willard said. "And that's our goal. We don't want him just to make it, we want him to be able to stay and have a great career."
The native of Trenton, New Jersey, was 81st on the ESPN 100 recruiting list, coming in from Connecticut's South Kent School, in a Class of 2016 that included NBA stars Jayson Tatum and Lonzo Ball. Scouting reports are consistent in noting his ability to heat up from any range at any moment -- Powell and James Harden, with whom he's often compared, are the only players to score 40 points in the season-opening Wooden Legacy tournament.
He has had the opportunity to round out the parts of his game that need work, such as defense and distribution, in Peru.
"I've really been impressed with the fact that there's times where we've asked him to be a little bit more of a role player, a little bit more unselfish, and how much he's accepted whatever we've asked him," Willard said.
Some things remain a work in progress. Team USA couldn't hold on against Puerto Rico after Powell, already banged up coming in and with just two points in the game, fouled out in the fourth quarter of an 87-84 loss. A full-strength Argentina team ranked fifth by FIBA suffocated the U.S. from the start in a 114-75 defeat that saw Powell score just eight points on 30% shooting.
Groselle, who is entering his fourth year as a pro and played with Powell for the first time just before the Pan American Games, isn't worried about the guard's NBA stock.
"He's not selfish, either," Groselle said. "That's something that surprised me. A lot of times with guards like him, they start to get a little bit selfish. But he's not. He's willing to give the ball inside, he's willing to make that extra pass, which at the next level is going to be very useful for him."
The parts are in place, though. The "unbelievable competitor" Powell possesses an insatiable ability to not only be the best but to win, his coach said.
"He has as big a heart as any young man I've ever come around," Willard said. "There's not a person, a player that's been around Myles that just doesn't fall in love with the kid."