Dream deferred

J. Michael Moore

Natalie Powers looked at the children playing on the basketball court with a story behind her eyes.

She fought back the urge to run to the equipment closet, pick out a basketball and start in on the hoop like the days of old.

She wanted to, but she couldn’t.

Powers’ new role as a school teacher kicks the thought out of her mind. Instead, she sits on the sidelines and thinks about the future of her basketball career.

The sixth-leading scorer in Lady Topper history remained in Bowling Green after the WNBA draft passed her by on April 19. She is now working as a student teacher at Bristow Elementary, finishing her degree in physical education.

Powers said she fights a constant battle within, trying to weigh her options of traveling to an overseas basketball league, looking for a developmental team here in the states or giving up the game altogether.

The demons in her head persist, but the playing children on the court remind her of a simpler time.

“To tell the truth, I’ve been stressing out all summer,” Powers said. “When I look at (the kids), it reminds me of when I was little. I’ve played all my life, and I realize how much I miss it.”

Two teams in Spain have shown interest in Powers. But with their season starting in late September, she doesn’t know if the time frame is realistic.

She’s also considering finishing her student teaching this fall, then heading to Europe in December. Developmental leagues are another less attractive alternative. Her ultimate motive is clear.

Powers wants exposure, the best way to turn the heads of the WNBA brass who didn’t find use for her services.

It has been said that Powers, who stands at 5-foot-11, is too small to bump elbows in the WNBA.

New Western head coach Mary Taylor Cowles coached Powers as an assistant under Steve Small. She disagrees with the argument.

“You have to sit and look at what each team is looking for,” Cowles said. “I think Natalie has a great knowledge of the game. She’s one of the few players I’ve ever seen that improved each of her four years.”

Cowles said people who try to make size an issue may fail to realize Powers’ performance against current WNBA talent.

Powers went one-on-one with Jackie Stiles – the WNBA’s Rookie of the Year in 2001 – when Western played Southwest Missouri State in 2000.

Stiles, who stands 5-foot-8, led the nation in scoring that year, but Powers held her seven points below her average and put up 17 points of her own in leading the Lady Toppers to an upset over the 13th-ranked Lady Bears. Stiles left Diddle Arena in tears.

Nonetheless, she’s become the toast of the WNBA.

Meanwhile, Powers, who scored 41 points against Middle Tennessee later that season, is still without a team. Cowles said anyone who can create such high numbers deserves a shot in the pro ranks.

Powers says her snub by the WNBA is not the end of the world, even if it has her temporarily stranded on the basketball roadside.

“I was disappointed, but it didn’t totally crush me,” she said.

But the Owensboro native admits she has not watched a complete WNBA game since, saying it made her feel sick at her stomach.

Instead, she’d go to the gym for a shoot around, trying to chip away at the frustration of being kept from the game she loves.

Today, she’s in the gym again – this time surrounded by students.

It’s an unfamiliar role. For Powers, it’s too early to be on this side of the whistle.

Too early to be the teacher. For now, she’d rather be the student.

“I know there comes a day when you have to get a real job,” Powers said. “But, I don’t want to sell myself short.”

Reach J. Michael Moore at [email protected]