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April 20, 2006

Cal's Powe declares for draft

OAKLAND, Calif. - Leon Powe received positive news about his surgically repaired left knee, and that was exactly what California's star forward needed to finally make a decision about his future.

Powe declared for the NBA draft on Wednesday but does not plan to sign with an agent immediately, giving him the option to return to the Golden Bears for his junior season.

"My family and I thought this was the best decision right now, to make myself eligible for the draft without hiring an agent," Powe said in a statement released by the school. "I want to leave all of my options open."

Powe - a local standout from Oakland Tech High School who overcame a challenging childhood - announced the decision a day after he was examined in Colorado by Dr. Richard Steadman, the renowned orthopedist who performed operations on Powe's knee two years ago. He is projected as a late first-round pick or early second-round selection. Powe had hinted he would turn pro if he were expected to be a first-round choice.

Declaring for the NBA gives Powe the chance to work out for teams to get a better idea of where he would go in the June 28 draft. He can maintain his college eligibility by not hiring an agent and has until June 18 to withdraw and go back to school.

Powe was in the gym working out Wednesday afternoon, only hours after announcing his decision. Scouts like his strength and length.

And hearing that his left knee is now as strong or stronger than the right one may only boost his draft position.

"It was a great day yesterday," said Bernard Ward, Powe's mentor and unofficial guardian. "He did some tests and the knee was better than the other knee. I was just happy for Leon to see how happy he was. ... The sky's the limit now. He'll stay in the gym and get better."

The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Powe led Cal to its first NCAA tournament bid in three years this season, but the Bears lost in the first round to North Carolina State.

He earned second-team All-America honors after averaging Pac-10 bests of 20.5 points and 10.1 rebounds in his first season back following a serious knee injury that sidelined him for all of the 2004-05 season.

"Leon and I have talked a lot about his future and his options," coach Ben Braun said. "He knows he has my full support. I'm proud that he has put himself in a great position both athletically and academically. He just had the best season of his basketball career, which is a credit to his work ethic and perseverance."

Powe, the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and league rebounding leader in 2004, is 29 credits shy of a degree in social welfare, and his late mother always emphasized the importance of education. He said he plans on getting his degree no matter what he decides with the draft.

Powe has said he would like to give back to the children in Oakland, where Powe spent time in homeless shelters and cramped apartments growing up.

"I'm just happy because at the end of the summer he will need 18 units to graduate," Ward said. "That's one of the reasons it took so long to make a decision. School is big, too."

For more coverage of the Cal Bears, check out BearTerritory.net.


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