There are some athletes whose talents instantly make them iconic figures. There are others whose shortcomings make them the perfect target of a menacing media.
And then there are athletes like the talented Nicole Powell.
The type that, for dubious reasons, are consistently excluded from lists like these and consequently placed into a box. Their gifts are kept under wraps.
Powell was a standout player throughout her collegiate career at Stanford University. The 6’2" small forward spent much of her freshman year leading the perennial Pac-10 powerhouse at point guard after fellow freshman Susan King was injured for the season. Right away, she proved she belonged by averaging 14.1 points 8.5 rebounds and 6.1 assists as a Diaper Dandy.
Her wiry frame did not stop her from leaving the college ranks as the leading rebounder in school history. She earned two Pac-10 Player of the Year Awards, but probably even more impressive were the five triple-doubles she recorded in her senior season.
Beyond that, Powell's versatile game earned her respect. A point guard/forward who can rebound with the best of them and be a threat for a triple-double on any given night had to be destined for stardom on the professional level.
Well, maybe not.
It’s hard to be supplanted in the middle, in between superstars whose names and reputations extend far past the boundaries of the game. But it’s been that way for Powell ever since she entered the league.
Drafted third by the Charlotte Sting in the WNBA Draft, she faced the burden of being the player chosen after UConn Huskies legend Diana Taurasi and 2004 Wade Trophy winner Alana Beard. Immediately after her, the Conneticut Sun chose University of Minnesota point guard Lindsey Whalen, the first ever Gopher to be drafted.
Powell had a tough rookie season in which she averaged just 4.3 points per game for the Sting. However, before the Sting franchise became extinct in 2007, it proved to be somewhat of a graveyard for top talent. Powell is not the only player who will appear on this list that needed a change of venue to reach her potential.
In 2005, Powell was traded to the Sacramento Monarchs. She received the WNBA Most Improved Player Award that year, and simply hasn’t stopped improving since. Last season, she led the Monarchs in scoring, averaging a career-best 13.4 points per game.
She also shot a staggering 41.1 percent from beyond the arc. That number may even improve this season with the Monarchs' additions inside. With the highly talented rookie Courtney Paris and veteran Rebekkah Brunson finally at full strength, Powell should get more open looks from the perimeter.
Still in discussion of the Monarchs, her name remains an afterthought. Since it's not the NBA, where you expect egos to take precedent over team goals, her acceptance of her place in the shadows of her teammates is somewhat overlooked.
The team's marquee players are undoubtedly 2008 Senior National Team gold medalist, Kara Lawson, and one of the greatest point guards in league history, Ticha Penicheiro. Each deserves their time in the lime, but the go-to player ought to have some shine.
Powell is the one player on the team that can come off screens and make big shots, as well as create for herself. One must wonder how it feels to be the star that is barely visible, even though season after season she helps grant every Monarch’s fans wishes by returning them to the playoffs.
In the words (but not quite the decibel level) of ESPN announcer and women’s basketball connoisseur Doris Burke, I have to say, “I see you Nicole Powell!”
And hopefully soon enough, more and more basketball fans will too.
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