Fall 2022

'The Rev' Roger Powell keeps God first as Gonzaga assistant basketball coach

At this point, Gonzaga making the Sweet 16 is about the closest thing to a foregone conclusion the chaos of March Madness can provide. The Bulldogs are the only program in the country to have advanced past the round of 32 in each of the last seven NCAA Tournaments.

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That streak was in serious jeopardy Saturday night, though, as they trailed ninth-seeded Memphis by 10 at halftime. Drew Timme then scored 21 second-half points to help Gonzaga escape with an 82-78 victory in Portland.

Leading the storied Gonzaga program for the past 23 years has been head coach Mark Few. Joining him on the bench as an assistant coach three years ago was Roger Powell Jr., who boasts some Sweet 16 playing experience of his own. Powell was on one of the final 16 teams three times while starring for the University of Illinois, including 2004-05, when the Illini went 37-2 and lost in the national championship game.

Powell was a three-year starter who played in 128 games in four seasons, helping Illinois capture three Big Ten regular-season championships and two conference tournament titles. He also managed to become an ordained minister while still a student.

After his college career came to an end, Powell embarked on a professional career that featured stops in what is now the NBA’s G League, the Continental Basketball Association, Italy, Israel, Spain, France and Germany, as well as a brief stint with the Utah Jazz.

The man nicknamed “The Rev” allowed God to guide his steps the entire way.

“I didn’t really get involved with the stress and worrying about where my next job was coming from because I just kind of always trusted God,” Powell told 247 Sports in 2020. “Ephesians 3:20, man, God is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than we can ask or imagine. That was my life. He’s used the game of basketball in my life in so many ways, and even now, as a coach, I’m still using it. It’s been a pretty cool ride.”

In the offseason, the Joliet, Illinois, native would turn his focus to RPJ Ministries, an organization he started to mentor and train young athletes to be Godly examples.

Powell got his start in coaching in 2011 when he joined Bryce Drew’s staff at Valparaiso University. He followed Drew when he left for Vanderbilt in 2016 and Powell served as the associate head coach.

Now in his third season at Gonzaga, Powell was featured in a recent video for YouVersion — the creators of the Bible app — as part of a four-day Bible reading plan called “On Mission To March Madness.” In the video, Powell discusses what it looks like to live with the end in mind as a Christian.

“If I want to end well like that, then the way that I treat people today is important,” he said. “The way that I love my wife and my kids when I’m grinding, when I’m working, but the way I spend time with them when I’m not at work — that’s important.”

Powell ends the video by emphasizing what matters to God in the end is how we love Him and those around us.

“When I’m done with my coaching and my life, I want God to say, ‘Well done,'” Powell said. “And He’s not going to say ‘well done’ if I win a bunch of championships but He wasn’t first. He’s not going to say ‘well done’ if I am the best coach ever but my marriage failed.”

Top-seeded Gonzaga faces No. 4-seed Arkansas at 7:09 p.m. ET Thursday in San Francisco. The winner will play either Duke or Texas Tech in the Elite Eight.

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