A new role and a new varsity position, but the same consistent Connor Powers.
The senior point guard for the Brainerd Warriors played more of a shooting guard in his previous varsity experience. The graduation of Mason Malone required Powers to move to the point where he played developing through Brainerd’s system.
“Last year, he was able to play off the ball a lot with Mason running the traditional point guard role,” Brainerd head coach Charlie Schoeck said. “This year, he was the strongest ball-handler and the most experienced coming back so it was a natural transition. That and his sense of knowing what we want to do on offense; he knows our gameplan and is familiar with everything. He was comfortable handling the ball and handling pressure. Those things all made him very valuable in that role.”
The past experience helped, but what surprised Powers the most was his ability to get shots and score. In Brainerd’s 26 games, Powers averaged 15.7 points on 45% shooting from the field.
“I wasn’t expected to score all that much,” Powers said. “I was mainly out there to get assists and do my part. That’s not to say that Owen (Davis) had to score all the time, but scoring as much as I have has kind of been a surprise. I think it just has to do with getting stronger in the offseason. I’m a little surprised that I’ve scored this much, but it’s really nice though.
“I’m kind of just playing point guard because I’ve had the most experience there, but I do think of myself as a point guard and maybe a shooting guard, too.”
Powers said the most difficult thing about returning to the point guard role was getting physically ready. He said bringing the ball up against full-court pressure can drain a player. He said he worked to get back into “point guard shape” and it must have worked as he finished in double figures in Brainerd’s last 15 regular-season games.
He displayed his scoring prowess in a 59-44 victory Feb. 28 at Willmar. Powers finished with 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field. He added two rebounds and four assists.
“I’ve been playing basketball my whole life so I just have a natural feel for when to go up with the basketball or when to kick it for an inside-out 3,” Powers said. “I just can feel when to drive and when not to drive.
“It’s mainly part of my teammates, too, getting me open looks and finding me when I’m cutting through the lane and setting screens for me. It’s more, my teammates, setting me up for scoring points rather than me doing it all by myself.”
The Willmar victory handed Brainerd a bit of confidence going into the Section 8-4A playoffs, where it narrowly missed upsetting No. 2 seeded Moorhead 75-72 Tuesday.
The Willmar win was a needed reversal of fortune as Brainerd was 1-8 in its nine previous games. The losses included a three-point defeat to Duluth East, a four-point loss to Sartell, a three-point loss to Rocori, a two-point loss to Wayzata and a one-point loss to Fergus Falls.
Even in the tough stretch, Schoeck said Powers’ consistency was vital.
“Especially with a guy who has the ball in his hands a lot as the point guard position does,” Schoeck said. “It’s great to know you can count on that consistency. When things aren’t quite clicking on offense it’s nice to have a guy like Connor, who can take his guy off the dribble and can improvise a little bit. He can make something happen on his own, outside the realm of the offense.”
Along with his 409 total points, Powers added 123 rebounds, 96 assists, 37 steals and nine blocked shots. It was against Willmar the first time the two teams squared off that Powers had his most memorable basketball moments. In a 73-41 victory Jan. 23 in Brainerd, Powers finished with 18 points, with six of those points coming on dunks. The former Class 2A state-qualifying high jumper just missed landing a dunk his junior season. It was a top priority for Powers his senior season.
He said last year’s track season was a key to his improvement on the basketball court this year.
“Not making it to state last year definitely pushed me to work harder,” Powers said. “When the season got done I just started lifting a ton. I just got better and stronger so I could get farther and higher in my jumps.”
Other notable performances
Tristan Dawson, swimming, finished fifth in 100-yard backstroke at the Class 2A state swimming competition.
Cade Barrett, wrestling, placed second in the 220-pound bracket of the Class 3A State Tournament.
Career highlight: Getting three dunks against Willmar
Other sports: Track and field
Grade-point average: 3.2
Favorite class: Outdoor adventure
Favorite food: Rafferty’s pizza
Favorite movie: “Interstellar”
Favorite website or app: Snapchat
Favorite restaurant: Rafferty’s Pizza in Nisswa
Future plans: Attend college undecided about whether to participate in basketball or track and field
Parents: Jeff and Kim Powers