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A Series of Small Successes: An In-Depth Look at the Life and Journey of Kasib Powell

By Matt Dykstra | June 25, 2021

Kasib Powell is a former NBA G League MVP. He’s a former NBA Call-Up to the Miami HEAT. He’s one of only four members in the Sioux Falls Skyforce Hall of Fame. He began what is now one of the fastest-growing basketball academies in the state with South Dakota Network Basketball. He’s been serving as an assistant coach with the Sioux Falls Skyforce since 2016. Now, he’s ready for another step forward, but not before looking back and reflecting on where he’s been. The following four-part series takes an in-depth look at the life and basketball journey of arguably one of the most influential players, now turned coach, in Skyforce franchise history. It starts at the beginning.

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PART 4: A New Calling

In 2013, Kasib Powell decided his playing days were over.

Up until then, everything Powell had ever done was with one goal in mind. His ultimate dream of playing in the NBA is what drove him, and he was fortunate enough to see that dream come to fruition. It wasn’t the career he’d envisioned himself having as a little kid growing up in Teaneck, New Jersey, but it was one marked by numerous successes nonetheless.

There’s a finality to all things, though.

It’s hard for any player to determine when the right time to be done is, but sometimes a player’s body makes the decision for them. That was the case for Powell. After battling back from a series of injuries during his final few years of playing professionally overseas, he knew it was time to be done.

It was a difficult decision, but he was at peace with it.

“It was hard, man,” said Powell. “It’s hard for anybody, I think. As hard as it was, though, I’ve never really second guessed it. My body was just telling me it was time to be done, and I’m glad I listened to it when I did. I’m glad I’m still able to feel healthy now in retirement. It was the right choice for me, for sure, but it was hard.”

Powell’s playing days were officially over. He’d accomplished his lifelong mission.

Now, it was time to fulfill his purpose.

From an early age, there was more to Powell’s passion for the game of basketball than just playing the game. His mind worked differently than others. He wanted to understand everything about it. He wanted to see it from every angle. He loved everything about it, and wanted those around him to share in that same love.

Ultimately, that led him to coaching, something he knew he was always meant to do.

“I always liked coaching,” said Powell. “Even when we used to go to the park, I felt like I was coaching. We’d be playing five-on-five or some random team, and I’d always be doing some type of coaching, some type of strategizing. That’s always just been how my mind works. I always felt that way as a player, kind of viewing the game that way. That made it a lot easier, I think, to transition from a player to a coach.”

His new pursuit would begin in small ways in a place he’d come to know as a home away from home in the years leading up to his retirement. The same place that supported and propelled him into achieving his life-long dream of playing in the NBA. Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“I would always come back to Sioux Falls between going overseas during my last few years of playing,” said Powell. “I met my girlfriend, Katherine, here and she was from this area, so I would always come back here between playing. One of those times when I was back, Sean Ladd had a couple of workouts he was doing at the YMCA in downtown Sioux Falls. He would always talk to me about this team he was trying to put together. He kept inviting me to the gym for weeks, over and over again, to come and work with the kids.”

Ladd, another New Jersey native, had ended up in Sioux Falls after playing basketball for Huron University. Powell and Ladd crossed paths for the first time when Powell was here playing with the Skyforce, and the two had kept in contact ever since. What began as a small investment into a small group of young players would grow into what we now know as the South Dakota Network Basketball Program, one of the state’s largest youth basketball training and AAU programs.

“[Ladd] was kind of the first one here, so we’d touch base whenever I was in town,” said Powell. “He’d ask me to come check in on the kids he was working with. I started to come every once in a while and eventually it turned into an actual team, and that’s how it started to grow. We started moving from the YMCA to Linwood Church, wherever there was room for us.”

With the Network Basketball program on the rise, the two co-owners began looking for extra help. In came another New Jersey native by the name of Greg Shoultz, who is now married to Powell’s sister, Shameka. Shoultz had been involved in similar programs in New Jersey, and when Powell invited him to see what they had created in Sioux Falls, he decided to stay.

Three men from different parts of New Jersey had now come together to build one of the fastest-rising youth basketball programs in the state South Dakota.

So…why Sioux Falls?

“Basically the reason why Network is so successful here in Sioux Falls is just because of this community,” said Powell. It’s the same things that I saw when I was a player here, the support of the community. The growth of Sioux Falls, the population, the new high school. It’s just a growing city. You could see that starting to happen almost 10 years ago now, so we felt like having Network here was just a good thing to do. Once we got into the facility we’re in now it just became easier and easier. Now it’s just home.”

Teaneck, New Jersey. El Dorado, Kansas. Lubbock, Texas. Serbia. Greece. Michigan. Bismarck, North Dakota. Bosnia. Russia. Sioux Falls, South Dakota. South Beach. China. Israel. Hungary.

Powell had been all over the world. He could have gone back home to New Jersey. He could have stayed in Miami, Florida. He could have gone back to where he enjoyed two of his greatest collegiate seasons in Lubbock, Texas. Instead, he came back to Sioux Falls.

“Sioux Falls has always been good to me,” said Powell. “It’s always been one of the best communities that I’ve experienced. It’s the people here. It’s the people who have allowed me to grow as a player and now a coach. It’s the people that have made Network Basketball so successful here. It’s just all about the community.”

With Network beginning to hit its stride, there was little else on Powell’s radar when he received a phone call in 2016 with a job offer. It was an opportunity to become an assistant coach with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, a job Powell says he may have even accepted for free in his first season.

“When I first joined the Skyforce that season, I think I might have even done it for free,” said Powell. “I completely understand that it’s a business now, but when I first started my eyes were just so wide open. I just wanted to learn as much as I possibly could. I was, and still am, so thankful to be a part of it.”

Earlier that spring, Powell had been inducted into the Skyforce Hall of Fame as one of the greatest players in franchise history. Now, less than six months later, he was back with the organization as an assistant coach, preparing to go to training camp with the Miami HEAT to learn how to mirror the HEAT Culture fans hear so much about.

He was a sponge then, recognizing how rare it was to learn first-hand from one of the greatest and longest-tenured coaching staffs in basketball, led by Erik Spoelstra. He’s still a sponge today, now approaching what will be his fifth season within the HEAT/Skyforce coaching ranks.

“One of the biggest things that helped me tremendously early on was going down to training camp with the Miami HEAT,” said Powell. “When you’re there, you get to see how Spoelstra does things and what drills they do. You get to see what’s effective and what’s not. Maybe you decide you want to take something out, or add something in, but it’s the perfect starting formula for what we do here in Sioux Falls.”

Powell may have had the perfect blue print to work from in his first year as an assistant, but he had to create his own starting formula when it came to discovering who he was as a coach at the professional level.

“I knew coming in that the fact that as a former player I would be able to relate to the guys that I was coaching,” said Powell. I used that as a starting point. In the first couple months, I was more of a rally guy, creating energy and positivity every practice. I grew in so many ways over those next few months.”

From practices to film sessions. From pre-practice routines to post-practice recoveries. From week-long road trips to four-game homestands. Powell soaked up as much information as he possibly could while working under a staff consisting of Head Coach Nevada Smith and fellow assistant Anthony Carter. Both, Powell says, were incredible mentors for him.

“I learned a lot from [Coach Smith],” said Powell. “Working with him for my first three years as an assistant, he taught me so much about the day-to-day aspects of being a head coach. How long do we want film sessions to be? How long do we want practices to be? When do we practice? When we fly, do we practice when we land or give guys rest? I had a feel for some of that stuff, but to see it from his perspective, it really gave me a great blueprint to work from and that was huge for me, for sure.”

Powell and Carter’s connection was much more of a one-two punch. Both were high-energy. Both were great player developers. Both found themselves running scout team against the Skyforce starting lineup at various times throughout the season. They didn’t easily give up their ground.

While Carter would eventually get the opportunity to become a Player Development Coach for the Miami HEAT after two seasons with the Skyforce, the impact he had on Powell’s own coaching journey has stuck with Powell to this day.

“I learned so much from AC,” said Powell. “I learned A LOT from AC. Work ethic. Everything. He was basically a big brother to me pretty much through my first couple years. He held me accountable. If I wasn’t early enough to a team meeting, he’d call me out on it. Things like keeping my shirt tucked in, telling me when to get out there and get after a guy, all of that. I learned a lot from him.”

Every new bit of information, side conversation, drawn up play, or piece of advice that Powell had absorbed over his first few years as an assistant was helping him to form who he was as a coach. He repeatedly refers to himself as a sponge, soaking up whatever he could from whoever would offer it. Now, after years of taking things in, he was beginning to feel more comfortable in creating his own personal identity as a coach.

For Powell, one of the most important pieces of his own coaching philosophy quickly became putting his players first.

“As a coach, I never want to view myself as being in the way,” he said. “I always want to help and enhance. That’s my philosophy. It’s all about the players. It’s all about helping them take the next step as individuals, and if you have your players taking that next step, it’s only going to help the team come together as a whole.”

Powell’s player-first mentality is easy to pick up on. Simply put, his guys go to war for him. Whether he’s coaching third graders in a summer AAU tournament or professional athletes from the sideline of a Skyforce game, he finds a way to pull the best out of every one of his players.

Forming meaningful relationships with players on an ever-changing roster season after season is harder to do that it may seem. Each season, the Skyforce coaching staff gets an almost entirely new batch of young athletes to mold into professionals. Powell has been successful time and time again at creating those types of connections, and he credits a few players in particular who helped him shift his mindset in his first year as an assistant.

“In my first few years as an assistant, we had Briante Weber, and he was a handful,” said Powell. “I had no idea how to connect with him at first. He reminded me of myself when I played in a lot of ways. I didn’t know how to approach him at first, but he eventually helped me a lot in learning how to connect differently with kids now.”

If there’s one thing a coach needs, especially in the NBA G League, it’s adaptability. Powell quickly realized that some of his deep-rooted philosophies as a coach were simply out of date. They just didn’t work anymore, at least not with everyone. Weber quickly put Powell’s adaptability to the test.

“He helped me a lot in changing my mindset as a coach,” said Powell. “Before him, I was a little bit old school. ‘You’ve got to do this and that, and you got to do it this way only.’ Stuff like that. He helped me realize that you have to have a whole new approach now. It was hard to deal with him at first, but now we talk all the time. We’re still great friends. I owe a lot to those types of relationships.”

Powell went on to name players like Keith Benson and Jabril Trawick. Weber, Benson, and Trawick. You could travel the world and not find a more unique grouping of personalities than those three players.

Powell’s ability to relate to his players served as the foundation for his early growth as a coach, and his knowledge of x’s and o’s was now catching up as well. In the same way that he became a truly professional player under then-Head Coach Nate Tibbetts, he was now becoming a truly professional coach under the guidance of the HEAT and Skyforce staff.

He was ready for more, and in January of 2019 he got what he described as a “small glimpse into his future” when Head Coach Nevada Smith was forced to miss a two-game road trip to the East Coast as he and his wife awaited the birth of their daughter. Powell stepped in as acting head coach for those two games, and to say it went well would be an understatement.

With a somewhat depleted roster, Powell took a Skyforce squad featuring just eight active players and went a perfect 2-0 against a streaking Delaware Blue Coats team and a 19-13 Westchester Knicks team respectively.

Sure, it was only a pair of games. A two-game sample size isn’t something to stake one’s reputation on, but the road trip was about more than just the games played, Powell says.

“Being the head coach for just two games isn’t really something to brag about, but there were aspects of that experience that were really important to me,” said Powell. “It was a road trip. It was film sessions. It was scheduling. It was busses, flights, practices…there was a lot that went on between and around those two games.”

Powell is always cautious about how that two-game stint is perceived. For him, it could have gone either way. Though the back-to-back wins made for a memorable experience, for Powell, it was more about getting the opportunity to sit in the driver’s seat, even if it was a short drive.

“I think my biggest takeaway from that two-game stint was just that I felt ready,” said Powell. “I felt ready to be the head coach. It gave me confidence. It made me feel like this was something I wanted to do all the time. It made me excited about possibly getting the chance to help players play to the best of their abilities like that for a full season. There was a realization, though, that when we came back from the trip I wouldn’t be the head coach anymore, and I was okay with that. I knew it was going to be a short opportunity, and that was completely fine. I’m just thankful for how it played out, and the confidence it gave me in hopefully one day having that be my full-time responsibility.”

Powell also got to experience something unique to coaches in the NBA G League during his two-game stint as acting head coach. When the Phoenix Suns called to sign then-Skyforce forward Emanuel Terry to a 10-day contract, Powell was the one to answer the phone. He’d eventually have to track Terry down, who was out on the court warming up for the game against Westchester, to tell him the news in person.

“I tracked him down and we called his mom together,” said Powell. “It was me, him, and his mom in this back corner of this arena and they were going crazy. Just to be part of that…I got to be part of the moment where he achieved his dream, you know? I don’t talk a lot about that trip because at the end of the day, it was just two games, but moments like those left me thinking ‘man, I need more of this.’”

A short 10 years prior, Powell was getting a similar phone call of his own. Being able to share in that same moment, now with a player under his direction, brought back a wave of memories.

“Things just don’t happen like that very often,” said Powell. “It was something I thought was really special.”

Powell would return as an assistant coach the following season, now under newly-named Head Coach Eric Glass, a long-time Miami HEAT staffer who was being sent to Sioux Falls to gain valuable head coaching experience before being called back to Miami. Glass’s stay was meant to be a short one, but was cut even shorter by COVID-19. The G League was shutdown in March of 2020, marking the last time the Force have played since the pandemic hit the United States.

Despite his short stay, Powell credits Glass as much as any other coach he’s had the chance to learn from. Whether working together in Sioux Falls, or down in Miami in advance of NBA Summer League, Powell gained valuable experience in his time alongside Glass.

“EG, man, I learned a lot from EG,” said Powell. “From the day I met him during summer league, he kind of always had me mirror him and follow him around, and he’d let me lead some practices and stuff like that. Opportunities like that give you all the confidence in the world when you come back here to the G League. You’ve done it before. Nothing is new. So I owe a lot of my confidence to EG and the opportunities he gave me to help me grow as a coach.”

Now, Powell has grown to be a coach built to carry on the traditions of Miami HEAT basketball. In all of his time coaching in the professional basketball world, he’s only ever known one system. One way of teaching. One culture.

“All the coaches I’ve coached under with the Miami HEAT, all the coaches I played for as a player, they all have something to do with my growth now as a coach,” said Powell. “I’ve learned something from everybody on this HEAT and Skyforce staff…Every single one of these guys has played a major part in helping me form who I am as a coach today.”

Over the last five years and across six basketball seasons, Powell has found and solidified his coaching identity. He knows who he is. He knows his own philosophies. He knows how best to implement HEAT Culture into his own roster of athletes.

Even the kids in his Network Basketball program are benefiting from some of the trickle-down effect that HEAT basketball has had on Powell over the years.

“As much as we care about the kids in our program and as much as we care about their success, we push them hard as well,” said Powell. “We hold them accountable. We make sure they know we’re not just here to meet once per week. When we punch the time clock in the gym, we’re there to work. It has less to do with talent and more to do with a willingness to work and get better, regardless of what level they’re at.”

Sound familiar? It should…

“Honestly, a lot of that comes from what I’ve learned with the HEAT and Skyforce, too,” said Powell. “Obviously with the Skyforce there are so many levels to it, so we just take a small fraction of what we do with the Skyforce to implement with our Network kids, and it’s made a big difference, I think.”

There’s a logical “next step” in Powell’s coaching career. It’s something we as outsiders can more readily acknowledge. Powell, though, remains as patient as he’s ever been. He’s simply thankful for the opportunity he’s been given. After all, he didn’t get to where he was today by feeling a sense of entitlement.

He didn’t walk into Coolidge Park and step on the court like he ran the place. No, he had to earn his keep.

He didn’t walk into the gym as a freshman in high school with a starting varsity spot already lined up. It took him three years to make that happen.

He didn’t sign with a premiere Division I college straight out of high school. He put in two years of hard work at Butler Community College before Texas Tech came calling. His JuCo jersey now hangs in the rafters in El Dorado, KS.

His dream of playing in the NBA wasn’t handed to him on a silver platter. He was passed up on draft night and spent years bouncing between training camps, overseas play, and NBA G League rosters to finally earn a brief stint with the same HEAT team that’s now invested the past five years of its own time and energy into his coaching career. It’s funny how life works, sometimes.

For Powell, every new opportunity is a blessing and an chance to achieve another small success. It’s been one of the most constant themes throughout his entire life. Small steps in the right direction, not one giant leap. As we quickly approach the upcoming G League season, Powell will be ready for whatever small step presents itself next.

In the meantime, he continues to learn everything he can from those around him. He continues to invest in the student athletes involved in his Network Basketball programs. He continues to give back to the city of Sioux Falls, a place where he and Katherine continue to raise a family of their own.

As his three children, Jamre, Kaevon and Janiyah, have continued to grow up, Powell and his family have only become more connected to the Sioux Falls community, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

The next chapter of Powell’s life and career is unfolding in real time. HEAT fans, Skyforce fans, and the rest of the Sioux Falls community, have a front row seat for whatever comes next.

To be continued…