It is not a surprise to find gym rat Norman Powell in a sticky basketball gym in late July working on his game. What is surprising is that gym being Kerr Hall on the campus of Ryerson University, and the work he’s putting in is in front of a packed house who all got a glimpse to see the Toronto Raptors swingman for free.
The setting was the Nike Crown League, a five-week pro-am tournament in Toronto that is part elite basketball run and part Canada Basketball reunion.
— Nike Toronto (@NikeToronto) July 29, 2017
On the back of a 22-point performance good enough for player of the week honors, Powell along with teammate Delon Wright helped bring home the title for M.A.D.E taking down “6 man” featuring Canadian NBA member Joel Anthony. The Crown league, a Canadian version of the Drew league that has reached legendary status in Los Angeles, this year featured fellow Raptor Pascal Siakam, Canadian NBA players Kelly Olynyk, Dwight Powell and fan favourites like Brady Heslip and Dylan Ennis and Canadian high-school phenoms Andrew Nembhard and Oshae Brissett. The championship team had a mixture of talent like former NCAA stars Jevohn Shepherd, Dyshawn Pierre, and Junior Cadougan, long-time national team member Jermaine “Rock” Anderson, former U Sports star Aaron Best, and playground legend “Big Mike” Fraser.
One talent they aren’t watching too hard is American Norm Powell, who used the championship game to show off his extended shooting range, tightened handle and bulkier frame. With confetti falling for what he hopes is not his last championship in the city, I caught up with Powell to talk about his off-season, his increased role and why the California native is back in Canada in the summer.
Sportsnet: What’s the difference between the Crown league and the Drew league?
Norman Powell: There’s no difference. This atmosphere was amazing. Both in level of play and level of engagement from the fans. There are fans hanging off the side of the rafters trying to get pictures and waving towels. It is like a soccer atmosphere. It’s good to come out and give the fans a chance to see the players from Toronto. The guys that are up and coming are really good. I love having the Crown league and OVO Bounce. I played in OVO last year and loved it and hope to play again.
SN: What is it like to have all the best players living in L.A. for the summer?
NP: It’s good because you get to work on your craft against the top players in the league. You get to work on things that you weren’t comfortable with in the previous season but against top competition. I love working out in L.A. Especially for a young guy like me to be able to pick the brain of the veterans.
SN: How do you guys react when you see all of the big moves in free agency throughout the league?
NP: Just focused on what we have to do. We’re not caught up in what the league is doing, who signed with who, who wants to be traded. We just follow DeMar’s lead as far as putting the work in, in the summer and buying in on what we have to do. We got swept last year. We need to come back better. We need to come back better than two years ago when we made the Eastern Conference finals. We’re not worried about who signed with who.
SN: – How did you find out Kyle Lowry was re-signing?
NP: There was a little chatter between the team on text. But we weren’t worried like everybody else was. We knew he wanted to finish what he started here and we need his veteran leadership.
SN: Your path to playing time is much clearer now. Does that change your approach?
NP: I’m ready for any opportunity I get. I don’t change based on anybody else. I put my own expectations on myself. I know what I’m capable of. That’s how I felt when I first came in [the NBA]. That’s the mindset I’m going to have until I can’t play anymore. I’m focused on getting better and embracing my role, whatever that is. No matter if I’m starting, not starting, regular season, playoffs I’m going to work stay hungry and stay humble.
SN: There isn’t much talk outside of this market about the Raptors. Do you feel like the Raptors are slept on?
NP: We’re always slept on. That was the biggest thing I learned in my rookie year. Whether we were No. 2 in the East or No. 1 in the East there were always these reasons why other teams were better than us and would bump us down to the fifth or sixth spot. Last year we weren’t going to make the playoffs, weren’t going to beat Milwaukee and all that. I don’t worry about the talking and what they say. That’s the mindset we have to have. Lock out the outside noise and keep grinding.
SN: Which teammate that left will you miss the most?
NP: Probably [Patrick Patterson]. He’s always been a big brother to me. Always looked out for me. I saw him the other day in L.A. and it was just weird seeing him in all this Oklahoma City gear. Him having that shirt on definitely didn’t feel right. He’s always wanted the best for me so hopefully that’s the best for him and his career. Hopefully he gets the starting spot there and he can show more of his game. He was always in my ear making sure I was always on the right path. But that’s just the business. I’ve probably already lost like 18 teammates. You just learn to roll with the punches and hope it’s not me going out.
SN: DeMarre Carroll voiced his frustration and was critical on his way out. Did that surprise you?
NP: I’ve always felt it was a family-oriented team. In that sense, it was a little surprising but there are no hard feelings. At the end of the day we got swept. People aren’t supposed to be happy with that. Some of the things that he mentioned is what Masai [Ujiri] and the coaches have been talking about as far as improving on what we’ve been doing. I wish him the best in Brooklyn but as a group we are moving forward and not worried about what anybody in the past is talking about.
SN: What are you working on this off-season?
NP: I’ve been really working on the finer parts of my game. Being a playmaker, being a decision-maker. There are some things that I’m working on that I’m not going to tell you about. I’m definitely working on my game and hopefully will unveil some stuff for the fans this season.
SN: You have some surprises in the vault?
NP: Of course, I can’t show y’all everything.