By Doug Gorman
Just a few short years ago, Josh Powell was an honor student and Beta Club member, roaming the halls of Riverdale High School.
He was also a standout basketball player for the Raiders, causing nightmares for opponents with his ability to score at one end and play a mean brand of defense on the other.
The 6-9 power forward's mix of brains and brawn were the perfect fit to play major college basketball.
When the ink dried on his letter of intent, North Carolina State was the winner of the Josh Powell sweepstakes.
After working hard to realize his goal, which included leaving school a year early and becoming an undrafted free agent, Powell is now a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, arguably the most popular team in the NBA.
Tonight, Powell and his NBA teammates take on the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena.
But Powell hasn't forgotten his roots or where he came from. Tuesday morning, just hours after his team landed in Atlanta after playing a game in New Orleans on Monday, the Riverdale graduate was back at his alma mater, where he donated a check for $20,000 to be used to build a new computer lab at the school.
"This is an honor for me, this is where it all began" Powell told a gathering of students, teachers, family and friends in the school's media center.
"I was once here where you are, and I had goals and dreams like everybody else. Today, I want to help you have the tools you need to achieve your dreams. Computers and technology are so important to helping you succeed. I am honored to stand here today, and tell you, I am going to help build a new computer lab for this high school."
His visit also included two friends and teammates as Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher paid a visit to the school.
Bryant, dressed in blue warm-ups and sunglasses, addressed an assembly of cheering students and urged them to draw inspiration from Powell.
"Josh had a dream, he had a goal, he had a vision, and he accomplished that," Bryant said, "He accomplished that by being inside these halls, this building. The same building you walk in every day. Because he did it, you can accomplish your goals too. He's back here today, not forgetting where he came from and he is a living example of what you can accomplish."
Powell had plenty of friends and well wishers on hand, welcoming him back to the Southern Crescent.
Some were also there to reminisce about Powell's high school days.
Holly Carver, Powell's advanced placement American Literature teacher and Beta Club advisor, remembers more than a talented basketball player, she also knew the future NBA forward when he was a gifted student.
"Josh has always been a talented basketball player, but what people don't know, he was also a scholar. He took advanced level courses, and maintained a 3.5 GPA for all four years in high school, and graduated as one of our honor graduates," Carver said. "Although I had to stay on him sometimes for getting a little lazy, he always came through. Managing a heavy course load and playing basketball was a great accomplishment," .
Powell's road to the NBA has taken some interesting twist and turns. After leaving N.C. State a year early, Powell went undrafted and had to work his way into the league.
His pro career includes stops in Russia and Italy as well as with Fort Wayne of the D-League.
His NBA debut came with the Dallas Mavricks in 2005. He's played in the league ever since, but he has been a bit of a journeyman, playing for the Indiana Pacers (2006-07), Golden State Warriors (2007) and Los Angeles Clippers (2008-09). He has spent the past two years with the Los Angles Lakers.
Powell's role with the Lakers brings him off the bench where he averages just over eight minutes a game and averages 2.6 points per contest.
Tonight the Lakers bring their first-pace Pacific Division, 54-20 recod into the contest with the Hawks, who are in second place in the Southeast Confernce with a 47-26 record.
No matter where Powell's NBA career takes him, he will never be fully removed from Riverdale High School.
His outstanding basketball career makes him still one of the best players to ever come out of Clayton County.
In college he earned ACC honors both on the court and in the class room where he studies business just so he had something to fall back on once basketball becomes a thing of the past.
"The fact that everybody came out to support me is great," he said. "To be able to give back to the school is so important to me. It's something I have been thinking about for a long time."