This is how Destiny Pitts remembers Jasmine Powell as a player: Fast, quick, growing.
“She was still learning the game,” Pitts said. “She had a raw skill set. She was just starting to put it all together as I was leaving.”
And here is Powell’s memory of Pitts: Talented, a scorer. But the defense? Not so much.
“She was all over the place,” Powell joked.
These impressions are a couple of years old.
Today, Powell is a freshman for the Gophers women’s basketball team, one clearly led by Pitts, a junior. This is their second time around as teammates — or third, if you count AAU ball. Both Powell and Pitts went to Detroit Country Day High School, two years apart.
Both lived on the east side of Detroit, with a 30-plus-minute drive to the high school, which was on the west side. As prep teammates, they won a state title when Pitts was a senior and Powell a sophomore. Powell won another the year after.
Now they would like to do that with the Gophers.
“We’ve always been connected,” Powell said. “To be able to play here with her? Just like in high school?”
An easy choice.
The Gophers are 2-1 heading into Sunday’s game with 19th-ranked Arizona State at Williams Arena.
Pitts has picked up where she left off last year, when she was a first-team All-Big Ten pick by the media and a second-team selection by the coaches. She scored 34 points through the first two games, before deferring in Thursday’s victory over Wisconsin-Milwaukee; she only took five shots, none until the fourth quarter, and scored only three points.
But she is still hitting 58.8% of her three-point attempts this season.
Powell? She is the backup at point guard to starter Jasmine Brunson. Both are quick, penetrating point guards with similar skills; Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen is determined to get both on the court together more, seeing the pressure the duo can put on a defense; the two played together often during the Gophers’ dominant second half Thursday.
After a rather nondescript debut in the Gophers opening-game loss to Missouri State, Powell came off the bench to score a team-high 19 points in a victory over Vermont. Thursday, she scored 16 points with four assists.
“Powell has been tremendous the last two games,” Whalen said.
“She’s finding people and making it easy. She drew six fouls [Thursday]. One of the things we talk about is getting feet in the paint and decisionmaking.”
Powell chalked up her debut to freshman jitters.
“I took some ill-advised shots,” she said. “I was just really nervous. Going into the second game, I realized I had to play my game. I had to let the game come to me, not rush anything. Just do what I need to do.”
As the 78th-ranked player in her class by ESPN, Powell attracted a lot of attention. She was recruited hard by Gophers coaches — and by Pitts.
Pitts was her official host when Powell visited. Pitts kept reminding Powell of the chemistry they’d had in Detroit — on and off the court — and how it was still there.
Said Pitts: “I was on her a little bit. I let her make her decisions. But I was like, ‘We could team up again. We always liked playing together.’ I think that helped.”
Said Powell: “She sold me, clearly.”
Pitts’ promise was that she would always have her friend’s back. She’d be there whenever needed.
Which, for a freshman from out of state at a big campus …
”It’s all the time,” Powell said. “As soon as I stepped foot on campus I was like, ‘Destiny, I need help.’”
Their friendship hasn’t changed. But some other things have. For example:
This is what Pitts sees in Powell so far this year: “You can see how much she has improved,” Pitts said. “She put it all together.”
And Powell on Pitts: “She’s definitely faster. She’s really got her shot going. Her defense is really great. She’s super agile now. She’s added so many things to her arsenal. I’m proud of her, the steps she’s taken.”