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SPORTS: Licensed minister Powell is spiritual leader for Illini

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–For several years now my interest in college basketball has been declining. I don’t really have a good explanation why.

Maybe it’s because so many players are leaving for the NBA after only one or two years in college that there’s no continuity anymore. I used to be a big-time fan and used to know the starting five for most of the top programs in the country. But it’s hard to keep track of such things when players are only around for a year.

This year, however, I’ve taken a greater interest in the sport than I have in a long time, and for one very good reason — the Illinois Fighting Illini have been an absolute pleasure to watch.

Nobody expected this kind of performance from Illinois and head coach Bruce Weber. Many had their doubts that Weber was even fit for the job when he replaced Bill Self, who left Illinois for Kansas a couple of years ago. Now in his second season with Illinois, Weber has allowed Illinois fans to forget all about Self.

Illinois hasn’t just been good this year. The Fighting Illini have been downright dominant. They destroyed Wake Forest and Gonzaga early in the season, and have done the same to most of their Big 10 opponents. Only a one-point loss to Ohio State on a last-second shot in the final regular season game kept Illinois from an unbeaten season. The Illini quickly shook off the defeat and rebounded to win the Big 10 tournament.

They’ve been atop the national rankings for weeks, and they are rightfully one of the favorites to win a national championship this year. The backcourt of Dee Brown, Luther Head and Deron Williams is the focal point of the team. These guys can all shoot and they’re all explosive scorers. But if Brown, Head and Williams form the Illinois engine, forward Roger Powell is the team’s navigator.

Nicknamed “The Rev” and “Preacher Man” by his teammates, Powell is a licensed minister. He graduated from Illinois in December and is now enrolled in classes at Urbana Theological Seminary. Powell isn’t sure what his future holds, but he knows ministry will have a place.

“I want to let the Lord lead me — be it as a pastor, evangelist, youth minister or something else,” Powell said in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ Sharing the Victory magazine. “I don’t know exactly what that calling is yet, but it’ll be in ministry.”

Powell credits FCA with helping him be a better Christian and understanding what the Christian life is all about. He wears his favorite Bible verses on his shoes during games. He regularly speaks to church groups even during the basketball season, and his teammates recognize him as their team’s spiritual leader.

“We call him ‘The Rev’ now,” Brown told the Champaign News-Gazette. “He’s given himself over to God. That’s a positive thing. It’s not easy. I wish I could do it.”

Just because he’s a Christian doesn’t mean Powell is soft on the court. He has a strong desire to win, but he’s quick to recognize God’s hand in his success.

“I strive to be humble, but still hungry and determined to win,” Powell told Sharing the Victory. “I really feel that I’ve done nothing on my own. God has really blessed me with a stage, and I take no credit for it.”
Tim Ellsworth writes this column from his home in Jackson, Tenn. Write to him at [email protected].

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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