Oakland Tech High senior Leon Powe verbally committed to Cal Wednesday, providing the cornerstone of what could be head coach Ben Braun’s best recruiting class ever.
Powe, who is at the Big Time Tournament in Las Vegas with the Slam ‘N Jam Soldiers this week, is widely considered one of the top 10 seniors in the nation. The 6-foot-7 power forward, who averaged 27 points per game for Oakland Tech last season, isn’t playing at the tournament, as he tore his ACL in May and is currently rehabilitating following surgery. He said the recovery is going smoothly and expects to be at full strength for the high school season.
Recruits aren’t allowed to sign official letters of intent until November, and Powe indicated he committed early in hopes of encouraging other top players to join him in Berkeley.
“I know that if I commit today, there’s a good chance more players will want to come play with me,” he said. “I figured I was going to commit (to Cal) anyway, so now we can probably get some great players.”
Braun already has verbal commitments from Seattle wingman Wesley Washington and small forward Dominic McGuire of San Diego, but neither is as highly-rated as Powe. Also, fellow Soldier Marquis Kately, a Riordan High (San Francisco) graduate, has committed to Cal but needs at least a year at a prep school to qualify academically, which means he could be part of Powe’s freshman class.
The Bears have a maximum of five scholarships to give for the 2003 freshman class, so if Powe, Washington, McGuire and Kately all qualify and attend Cal, only one more spot is available. The Golden Bears are pursuing Oakland High point guard Ayinde Ubaka, who also plays for Slam ‘n Jam, and Powe said he might give his AAU teammate and Oakland Athletic League rival a friendly push in the right direction.
“I’ll be talking to Ayinde all summer,” Powe said. “I want three of us to play together. I know I can count on them. Soldiers don’t back down from nobody. In the heat of battle, they won’t run from anybody.”
Powe also dismissed the possibility of heading straight to the NBA from high school, especially after suffering a serious knee injury that has wiped out his summer season.
Powe’s short list of schools included Duke, Maryland, Kansas and North Carolina along with Cal. Duke was considered the front-runner until the Blue Devils got a commitment from forward Kris Humphries of Minnesota, who plays the same position as Powe, in May.
Cal has been recruiting Powe since he was a freshman at Oakland Tech, and the player has attended Golden Bear games for the past two seasons. Powe cited his relationship with Braun as a factor in his decision, as well as the chance to play where his family and friends can watch him. Family has become a bigger concern since the death of Powe’s mother, Connie Landry, in March.
“I think it’ll help my family a lot to have me here,” Powe said. “My little brothers and sisters need a role model, and I know they look up to me.”
Powe said he has taken the SAT twice and hasn’t achieved a qualifying score, but he hasn’t taken any prep classes and is confident he’ll qualify.