Kansas City, Mo. "Return of the Powe Cal used to know," was the catchy headline the San Francisco Chronicle used to celebrate Cal powe(r) forward Leon Powe's successful comeback Nov. 30 from a pair of knee surgeries.
Playing in his first game in 629 days, Powe exploded for 27 points in the Golden Bears' 70-52 win over San Jose State in Berkeley, Calif.
The 6-foot-8, 240-pounder followed that with 26 points two days later against Akron and 22 points Tuesday versus San Diego State.
He takes imposing averages of 25.0 points and 9.3 rebounds into today's game against Kansas University. Tip is 11 a.m. at Kemper Arena, with a live telecast on ESPN (Sunflower Broadband Channel 33).
"He is 'The Truth,'" Cal sophomore and former KU guard Omar Wilkes said of Powe, who earned Pac-10 freshman-of-the-year honors in 2003-04 after averaging 15.1 points and 9.5 rebounds a game.
"He's a great player. He makes his teammates better," Wilkes said. "Without giving away too much scouting report, he is fundamentally strong, talented. He's back now, when it counts. It's great to have him back."
No doubt about it: The Jayhawks (3-4) today will have to slow Powe if they hope to derail Cal (6-1).
"He is not pretty good. He's great, a terrific player," KU coach Bill Self said, indicating one of
KU's big men -- Sasha Kaun or C.J. Giles -- likely would get the defensive assignment on Powe. "He's averaging 25 and nine, and he's rusty. He's shot 31 free throws in three games (making 20), scoring every way imaginable. He's probably the best low-post player we'll play against this year."
Powe has help inside and out. Starting center DeVon Hardin, a 6-11, 235-pound sophomore, averages 13.3 points and 7.9 boards, point guard Ayinde Ubaka averages 14.3 points and 4.6 assists, and shooting guard Richard Midgley has drained 13 of his last 23 three-point tries.
"There is no question they are the most talented team we've played," Self said. "I think they are more talented than Arizona. They have got perimeter shooters, great point guard play, the best front line we've gone against.
"The game they lost, they didn't have their starting frontcourt. Benson (stress fracture in heel) and Powe ... neither played that game."
The Bears dropped their opener at Eastern Michigan, 67-65, then rattled off six straight home victories.
Powe is giddy to be back after his long layoff. He incurred what he expected would be minor arthroscopic surgery to clean up loose cartilage following his stellar freshman season.
Instead, Powe wound up having two major operations on his left knee. He also had a minor setback early this season, missing four games because of a minor stress fracture in his right foot.
"When that ball went in the air, I just thought, 'Man I'm here,''' Powe said of the opening tip of his return performance. "It's just a blessing to be out there again. I don't care if I didn't score a point, I'm just happy to be out there with my teammates."
Powe has battled adversity before. His mom, Connie, died from a heart condition at the age of 41 when Powe was a junior at Oakland Tech High. He had been taken from her at age 13, but they remained close.
"When my mom died, I thought I didn't want to play any more," Powe told the Associated Press.
Powe's father left when he was 2. When he was 7, Powe's younger brother accidentally set the family house on fire. The boys alternated between homeless shelters and cramped apartments, and Powe spent part of his teenage years in foster care while his mom was in jail battling drug problems, according to the AP.
"If one person gets it done, it's me. I believe in myself," Powe said. "There isn't any pressure on me. I'm going to go out there and play my game, because I know what kind of game I have."
He is also glad to see the improvement of bookend Hardin, who hails from Newark, Calif.
"He's making me look good now," Powe said. "I think we've got the best frontcourt in the Pac-10, maybe the country."
Coach Ben Braun wouldn't argue.
"Leon is going to have a real impact on the Pac-10," Braun said. "I think he could be our conference's best player. He gives our team a confidence only certain players can give you. It's just great to see him back on the court. I can't tell you how happy I am that he's out there again, smiling."
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