Powell moved by Assembly Hall fan support

Former Illini Deron Williams and Roger Powell met again at Assembly Hall on Friday, playing for the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls, respectively. Erica Magda

Former Illini Deron Williams and Roger Powell met again at Assembly Hall on Friday, playing for the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls, respectively. Erica Magda

By Jeremy Werner

Roger Powell Jr. tried to treat the Chicago Bulls’ preseason matchup against the Utah Jazz at the Assembly Hall as just another game. The former Illini knew he had to stay focused on the task at hand: making the Bulls roster.

But it’s not every day that Powell hears his name chanted by 13,840 fans throughout the game. It’s not every game that fans cheer every time he touches the ball, makes a free throw or even commits a foul.

Following the Bulls’ 108-105 victory, in which Powell netted four points in seven minutes of play, “The Rev” couldn’t help but feel moved by the adulation from the Assembly Hall crowd.

“It felt great; I was trying not to cry,” Powell said. “It felt amazing to be back and see all the support that they’re still giving us, man. I was fighting back tears.”

Powell, a two-time honorable mention Big Ten selection, faces an uphill battle to make the Bulls roster. He has played 17 minutes in three games, averaging 3.7 points. Chicago is “loaded” with wing players “so there’s not a lot of great opportunity” for Powell to make the team, according to first-year Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro.

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“He’s played hard every day, hasn’t missed anything,” Del Negro said.

“Obviously coming back here I wanted to get him some minutes at the right time. He came in, I thought he did well, made a nice shot, a couple free throws. He’s such a great kid … You want good things to happen to guys like Roger Powell.”

Powell, a Sunday School teacher and a mentor of high school student athletes, inscribes Bible verses on his basketball shoes with a marker. That faith is what has kept Powell optimistic about his chances with the Bulls.

“You have to understand, though, that it’s a business and (the Bulls) have to make decisions that are best for the team, so I keep that in mind as well,” Powell said. “I’ve been praying and working hard, and with that formula I have a good chance.”

Coach not jazzed up by Champaign

Utah’s head coach Jerry Sloan stopped by Champaign for his son Brian’s basketball tournament about 20 years ago. Besides that short stay, Friday’s exhibition game was his first visit to the University of Illinois campus since transferring from the Illini to the Purple Aces at the University of Evansville (Ill.) 48 years ago.

Sloan enrolled at Illinois to play basketball but left the University less than eight weeks after arriving on campus.

“It wasn’t right for me; I was lost,” Sloan said. “I’d never been out of the county when I was living down (in McLeansboro).”

Sloan went on to win consecutive Division II National Championships in 1964 and 1965 and was named Most Outstanding Player in the tournament both years. The McLeansboro, Ill., native was a two-time All-Star with the Chicago Bulls and was the first Bulls player to have his jersey retired. Sloan currently ranks fourth on the all-time NBA coaching wins list with 1,089 victories. He has the longest tenure, 19 years, of any head coach in the four major sports.

Freshmen were not allowed to play during Sloan’s collegiate career, so he never recorded a single statistic with the Illini.

But Sloan has no regrets about his transfer.

“A lot of thoughts run through your mind over the years, but I think I made the right choice as it all turned out after the fact,” Sloan. “I felt like that I could play at this level at that particular time, and I think I proved that I did.”