Minus two stars, Medford Tech moves on

Medford Tech coach Nick Powell shrugs off the loss of two top players: "You roll up your sleeves and get back to work." DAVID M WARREN / Staff
Medford Tech coach Nick Powell shrugs off the loss of two top players: "You roll up your sleeves and get back to work." DAVID M WARREN / Staff
Posted: December 21, 2013

Nick Powell can do the math.

"That was 40 points, in the book, every night," said Powell, the boys' basketball coach at Medford Tech.

Actually, it was 41.4. Eli Cain averaged 20.8 for Medford Tech last season. Myles Powell (no relation to the coach) averaged 20.6.

And that was last season, when Cain was a junior and Myles Powell was a sophomore and the Jaguars won the first South Jersey title in the history of the program and advanced to the Group 2 state final and set the stage, seemingly, for something special this season.

But this past summer, Cain transferred to St. Benedict's Prep, a non-NJSIAA school in Newark, and Myles Powell transferred to Trenton Catholic.

In June, Nick Powell had one of the best teams in South Jersey.

By September, he was rebuilding again.

"What are you going to do, cry about it?" said Nick Powell, The Inquirer's South Jersey coach of the year last season. "Here's what you do: You roll up your sleeves and get back to work. We're all about hard work. That's our formula."

What happened at Medford Tech also happened at Rancocas Valley. Guard Ned Ogoemesim, who led the Red Devils in scoring last season as a sophomore and was projected as the top player for one of South Jersey's top teams, transferred to Life Center Academy.

This is the way of the world for many high school coaches in many high school sports. There's so much outside influence on top players - from coaches, teammates, and hangers-on on the AAU circuit; from zealous parents; from recruiting sites and services that intensify the college selection process - that the old school team often takes a backseat.

"Voices and choices," one veteran small-college coach said in describing the atmosphere around basketball players these days.

It's a free country. Cain and Myles Powell and Ogoemesim have every right to change schools. If they've landed in a better place for their academic or educational or social or athletic development, more power to them.

Like Jay Flanagan at Rancocas Valley, Nick Powell is going to make the best of the situation. He's going to turn the loss of his two top players into an opportunity for some other athletes.

"I've got some young guys who maybe wouldn't have seen the floor if those two guys were still here," Powell said, "and some other guys who are going to have to step up because those two guys would have taken so many of the shots.

"We know what we lost. Those guys can play. But these guys we have now, they are hungry."

Powell has a scrappy, inexperienced team with a promising junior in 6-6 forward Dennis Tunstall, a tenacious defender in senior guard Sidney Harris, and a bunch of other guys who play with energy and enthusiasm.

In some ways, Powell is back to his roots. He built the program, almost from scratch, taking a team that was a soft spot on a lot of schedules and gradually turning the Jaguars into a South Jersey power.

Powell's teams are 106-57 in six seasons. They are 80-32 in the last four seasons. They went 20-11 in 2012-13, playing a difficult schedule that included games against Paul VI, Atlantic City, and St. Anthony of Jersey City.

Anybody in that little gym last March when Medford Tech beat Sterling, 87-69, in the South Jersey Group 2 title game, and Cain went for 29 points with eight assists and Myles Powell went for 28 with five three-pointers, could see what was coming this season: The school with little athletic tradition was going to be one of the best teams in South Jersey.

"I told Eli, 'You can make it from Medford,' " Nick Powell said of the 6-5 lead guard who was drawing recruiting interest from Temple, La Salle, and St. Joseph, among other programs. "I told him, 'You're doing it.'

"But he felt like it was best for him to go. We wish him and Myles the best, and we move forward. What else can you do?"

Lots of coaches in lots of sports have lost a top player. Nick Powell is one of the few to have lost two top players.

But he lives in the real world. He knows that these kinds of situations tend to cut both ways: Basketball was one of the things that drew Cain and Myles Powell to Medford Tech and one of the things that chased them away.

"This is the water we're swimming in," Nick Powell said. "You've got to deal with it."

He was standing in the hallway outside the little gym. Inside a classroom, his players were awaiting his return for their final instructions before a scrimmage against Timber Creek.

His message to them has been the same since Day 1: Don't lament the loss of those 40 points in the score book. Seize the opportunity created by those two openings in the lineup.


panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

www.inquirer.com/jerseysidesports

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