Freshman Powell gaining respect with his defense

Published: Friday, January 26, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 26, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

A couple of weeks ago, Florida freshman guard Brandon Powell was looking for a conversation piece in his dorm room.

Meet "Jake the Snake."

We're not talking about the quarterback from the Denver Broncos, or even the WWE wrestler.

Jake is a two-foot, boa python that Powell bought as a pet. In his limited spare time, Powell feeds the snake baby rats and mice.

"When I'm not on the court, I'm not in the classroom. I have something to do in my dorm room," Powell said. "Other than a dog, that was my choice."

Freshman roommate and teammate Marreese Speights has yet to warm up to the reptile. Powell said he has yet to let the snake out of its cage.

"I don't mess with it." Powell said. "It's just a baby, it's just not used to the environment until it gets a little older. He'll get used to it and maybe it will get lost in the room somewhere."

Much in the same way that Powell is adapting to college basketball.

After not appearing in four of Florida's first 15 games, the 6-foot-3 guard from Memphis, Tenn., has found a niche on the No. 1-ranked Gators as a defensive specialist. On Wednesday night, Powell blocked a layup attempt from Mississippi State freshman guard Barry Stewart, a key second-half play in Wednesday night's 70-67 win over the Bulldogs.

"He came flying out of nowhere," said junior forward Corey Brewer, who was beaten on the drive to the basket. "It was a big play. He goes hard all practice. You can tell he's going to be a really good player once he learns the system."

"Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it," Powell said. "I don't know if it was Corey or Taurean that had a miscommunication, on the switch and he was wide open."

Powell lunged but kept from making contact with Stewart as he timed the block.

"I just took my chances and helped out and blocked it," Powell said.

Powell impressed Florida coach Billy Donovan with his defensive ability during preseason practices. What kept him off the floor was learning Donovan's intricate motion offense.

"I knew coming in myself I was far behind just because of the style of play in my high school," Powell said. "Coach Donovan just told me what to work on and what to get better at. I knew if I kept working, eventually it would pay off."

Still, Powell admitted there were times during the early season when he was frustrated and confused.

"I wasn't feeling too comfortable, not playing," Powell said. "Then, I didn't know where to start as far as should I look at more film, should I go look at more shots."

A trip back to Memphis during Christmas break provided perspective. Powell is the third-youngest of 11 siblings, the first one to go to college.

"Just seeing my family, I just saw how happy they were just for me to be successful down here in college," Powell said. "I pictured that and just pictured basketball, and I saw, even though I'm not playing as much, they're still having a great time. At first that was a problem because I knew what was going on, but my family didn't. They understood, that kind of relaxed mind.

"I'm the only guy in my family that's been to college, graduated high school. I didn't want them to see me as a failure. That's why I continued to work hard and do what I can."

Brewer, a fellow in-state native from Portland, Tenn., also offered words of encouragement.

"I just tried to tell him you never know when you're going to get your chance," Brewer said. "Make the most of it. You can get thrown in the fire any day."

Then came the opportunity. In Florida's third Southeastern Conference game of the season at South Carolina, after Tre Kelley torched the Gators for 20 first-half points, Donovan subbed in Powell to keep Kelley from penetrating to the basket. Kelly was held to four points for the remainder of the game.

"I think for him it was just trying to figure it out," Donovan said. "It was different for him. Different demands, different way that he was used to playing, trying to figure out how he could help the team and not really knowing how."

Teammates say Powell has a better grasp of the offense. Donovan also acknowledged Powell is making progress in practice.

"I feel more comfortable with him out there," Donovan said.

Even though several family members and friends made the two-hour trip from Memphis on Wednesday night to watch Powell play, it appeared he wasn't going to get the opportunity to showcase his defensive talents. But after not playing the first half, Powell was brought in to help contain Stewart. Powell came up with the block and an assist in four minutes.

"I was just going to stay ready," Powell said. "Even though I didn't play in the first half I was staying ready because any time, it can be one second and you could possibly do something within that one second to help the team."

In turn, Powell gave his family something to cheer about.

"I just want everyone to see me as someone doing the right things, doing what's good," Powell said. "My family was very supportive, even my brothers who didn't graduate. They're all helping me."

Kevin Brockway can be reached at (352) 374-5054 or by e-mail at .

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