VALPARAISO | Roger Powell isn’t sure what he’ll exactly feel when he walks into the former Assembly Hall in Champaign for the first time as a visitor on Wednesday night.
The Valparaiso assistant men’s basketball coach will return to his alma mater this evening when the Crusaders take on Illinois in arguably Valparaiso’s biggest non-conference test of the season.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet that I’ll be going against my school,” Powell said. “I’ve always wanted to go back and watch a game, but this is going to be a little different. We’re going there to compete and win a game.”
Powell played his entire career with the Illini and helped lead the team to the national championship game in 2005. The Joliet native was a two-time Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection after starting all but one game in the second half of his career.
“I’m excited to go back and see where I played, but then again, I don’t want this to be all about me,” Powell said. “Once the game starts, it’s just another basketball game and it’s chance for us to improve as a basketball team.”
Powell is entering his third year on the Valparaiso staff, having joined the program when Bryce Drew took over as head coach. The former NBA player has developed quite a reputation on the recruiting scene as Next Up Recruits cited Powell as the Horizon League’s top assistant coach last summer.
While Wednesday night will represent a homecoming for Powell, it will also represent the first road game for Valparaiso’s heralded freshmen class, a group that Powell largely constructed.
“We’ve got a great future ahead of us here at Valpo,” Powell said. “It’s going to be excited for the guys. It’s a long season and they’ll have to mature as we go, but they’re taking everything in stride right now.”
Powell has amassed plenty of memories while playing at Illinois, the brightest being when the Illini knocked off top-ranked Wake Forest in 2004. If Valparaiso can spring the upset on Wednesday night, it will undoubtedly be a special memory, but it will get filed into a different category for the assistant coach.
“It’s totally different,” Powell said, “I don’t think anything can replace my memories from when I was in college. If we can pull out a win, that would be great, but winning a regular season game wouldn’t compare to winning the Horizon League tournament and getting back to the NCAA tournament. We’re trying to build something special here.”
Notes: Illinois has won all five games in the series, including a 93-56 decision on Dec. 19, 2004. Current Valparaiso assistant Roger Powell scored 14 points in the contest while Dan Oppland led the Crusaders with 16 points. ... Valparaiso newcomer Alec Peters was named the Horizon League Freshmen of the Week after averaging 10.5 points and six rebounds in his first two collegiate games. ... ESPN's Andy Katz referred to Valparaiso's Bryce Drew as one of the "up-and-coming coaches in the country" on Tuesday night.