Powell vies for Bulls job



Roger Powell dunks at the “Night of Legends” game Sept. 13 at Assembly Hall. Powell, now a Chicago Bull, will play the Utah Jazz at the Hall on Friday. Erica Magda

By Jeremy Werner

Roger Powell Jr.’s adolescent wardrobe consisted mostly of Chicago Bulls gear. The Joliet, Ill., native had “all the hats, shirts, championship gear” of the six-time NBA championship team.

Now, the former Illini has added an authentic Bulls jersey, affixed with “Powell” on the back, to put next to the Michael Jordan jersey in his closet.

The Bulls signed Powell to their training camp roster in late September. Powell will be fighting to make an NBA roster during Friday’s Bulls-Jazz preseason game at the Assembly Hall. But the starting forward of Illinois’ 2005 Final Four team is also taking the time to enjoy playing for his favorite childhood team.

“It’s funny because I can remember when I was younger, one game I’d be standing outside the gate where the players leave,” Powell said. “People were screaming to them and trying to get a glimpse of them. It’s pretty cool now being here and seeing the fans waiting for autographs.”

Powell played for the CBA’s Rockford Lightning following his senior season at Illinois and was named the league’s Rookie of the Year in 2005-06. Powell’s success in the CBA led to a roster spot on the Utah Jazz, with Illini teammates Deron Williams and Dee Brown, during the 2006-07 season. He played in three games before the Jazz cut him in January. Powell spent the rest of the season with the Arkansas Rimrockers of the NBA Developmental League and played for Teramo Basket in Italy last year.

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    Joining Chicago gives Powell another shot at sticking with an NBA team. Bulls general manager John Paxson told the former Illini he’s going to give him a shot to make the roster.

    “Whatever direction they go, I have to deal with that then,” Powell said. “You just got to keep playing hard and doing what I’ve been doing in practice. When I get a chance in the game, play hard and just be me … You know they have to make a decision that’s going to be best for the team. And hopefully that decision is going to be to keeping me.”

    The preseason game marks Powell’s second trip to Champaign in little more than a month, after attending A Night of Legends alumni game Sept. 13. At the time, Powell told Illinois head coach Bruce Weber he was heading back to Italy.

    “I hope maybe this is an opportunity to play some extra minutes here in front of the home crowd, or whatever they do,” Weber said. “It’d be great if he takes advantage of it. You can’t go wrong with Roger. He’s a great person, great player. He’s always going to play his butt off, and I hope he gets a chance to stick with them.”

    Powell hopes to see a lot of Illini orange and blue and Chicago Bulls red decorating the Hall.

    “It’s definitely home for me,” Powell said of Assembly Hall. “It’s an honor for me to go there and play on that court again. Hopefully, it’s not the last. Hopefully, we’ll do the legends game again. But like I said to a couple of the guys, I can’t let the emotions get the best of me. I have to be ready to perform because I’m in a tryout right now.”

    Powell, affectionately called “The Rev” by friends and teammates, keeps busy in the offseason teaching Sunday School and mentoring high school student-athletes through his nonprofit organization, Roger Powell Jr. Ministries. Powell also reaches out to his former teammates through phone calls and text messages. He said he may call Utah Jazz guard and Olympic gold medalist Deron Williams “just to talk some trash.”

    Powell said he’d enjoy the familiar sights of Champaign, but said he has to concentrate on the task at hand. He is not guaranteed another chance at an NBA roster, particularly on the team he idolized as a kid. Powell had dreams of wearing the deep red jerseys when he was sitting in 300-level seats or watching from the standing room-only section of the United Center. Now, he has five more preseason games to turn that fantasy into reality.

    “I think it’s any kid’s dream to make it in the NBA,” Powell said. “I’ve already made a team (with the Jazz), so my goal is just to get on a team, stick with them and get the opportunity to play. You never know when that comes. It’s just you got to keep working for when that opportunity comes.”