Her focus is unbreakable on the court. Her athleticism is unmatched. Her trophy case only gets bigger as time goes on. Redshirt junior guard Aerial Powers is a one-of-a-kind talent for the MSU women’s basketball team and she has nowhere to go but up.
Powers is putting together a stellar collegiate career and is on the verge of becoming one of the best shooters in school history. Powers is already one of the premier athletes in the Big Ten, but her and the Spartans are making a stake at national recognition.
Powers, a Detroit native, is already a team leader, a school record holder and a Team USA athlete — with many of her accomplishments being met as an underclassman.
Coming from humble beginnings
Aerial Powers is exceptionally talented — there’s no questioning that. But like any other student athlete, Powers comes from humble roots.
Powers was born on Jan. 17, 1994 to parents Juan and Cecelia Powers in Detroit. Aerial’s only sibling is her younger brother, Juan Jr., who attends community college. From an early age, her father, an oil-refinery worker for Marathon, encouraged her to go out and be as active as possible. As a young girl Powers would participate in a multitude of sports, including boxing.
Powers’ father recalls Aerial was throwing hooks and jabs well before she learned to dribble a ball.
“I originally got her into boxing first,” Juan said. “We got her into boxing when she was really young and she loved it.”
In fact, Powers’ career in basketball began from a pickup game with her father.
“One day I was going to play a pickup game and she wanted to go,” Juan said. “And she wanted to play with me, so I started to let her play with me, but we had to play with the smaller group and it was always with boys. She showed a lot of talent early and she wanted to learn so from then on she just continued to get better.”
From there, her basketball potential only grew. Powers and her family decided to enroll her at Detroit Country Day School, a small private school in Metro Detroit. Powers would find herself on the varsity team as a freshman and was taken under the wing of veteran head coach Frank Orlando, currently in his 49th season as a coach and his 36th as head coach at Detroit Country Day.
“The thing I noticed when she was a freshman was that she was always concerned about her teammates,” Orlando said. “She loved her teammates and wanted them to be successful, so that was the first impression that I got that she would be a great player.”
The four-year letterwinner got a taste of success her freshman year, helping the Yellow Jackets to their 2009 class B state title. Her team would be back in the title game just a year later, but finished as the state runner-up for the 2010 season. The achievements would continue to pile up for Powers, who was named a two-time Associated Press Class B Player of the Year and was given all-state honors three times in high school. By the end of her senior year she was ranked the No. 99 player in the country by ESPN. In high school, Powers averaged 17.1 points a game and 5.7 rebounds.
“She came in and was very athletic, she had the ability to rise to the occasion, but she was a player that developed her shooting strength over time — which, when she first came in, was kind of a liability, but she worked on it so hard and you can see now that her shooting skills are among the best,” Orlando said. “Her work ethic was always good and she made herself better a lot in the off-season and even after practice she would work on things that she needed to do to get better.”
What she’s doing this season
Before the season started, Powers was invited to join Team USA for the World University Games, or WUG. Powers helped lead Team USA to a perfect 6-0 record during the games, which gave the already decorated Spartan a gold medal to add to her trophy case. In the championship game against Canada, Powers scored 27 of the U.S.’s 82 points and nine rebounds. Powers also led the U.S. in scoring during the tournament, averaging 18.0 points per game.
MSU women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant has been enjoying the fruits of Powers’ labor since her freshman season. During her freshman year campaign, Powers started all 33 games for the Green and White.
“She’s probably the most dynamic, prolific player that has played here, in terms of her talent level,” Merchant said. “She’s so fun to watch, and I think the best part about her that people should know is not only is she a great player and a great person, but she’s spent a lot of time working on her game and a lot of kids don’t do that anymore.”
In 23 games played this season, Powers is leading the 18-7 Spartans with 20.7 points per game. She is also leading her team in rebounds, with 190 overall. The durable Powers is averaging 30.9 minutes per game and has played in every game since she missed the first two games of the season with achilles soreness.
Powers has heated up recently too, scoring at least 25 points in five of her last seven games. The sharp-shooting point guard is leading the team in many offensive categories, which ranks her among the best in the Big Ten.
As it stands, Powers is ranked fourth in the Big Ten in scoring with her 20.7 points a game, sixth in the conference and she is shooting .845 from the free-throw line, good enough for seventh in the conference. From the floor this season Powers is making .453 percent of her shots, and is shooting .292 from 3-point range.
In her short time at MSU, Powers already broke many school records. With 42 career double-doubles, Powers is ranked second all-time in that category, trailing MSU Hall of Famer Mary Kay Itnyre, who has 43 total double-doubles. Powers is also ranked fifth in all-time scoring with 1,595 career points.
“When she’s got her swag we’ve all got our swag,” Merchant said. “It’s kind of silly to put it that way but that’s the truth. She plays with a lot of confidence and she brings a lot of emotion and passion to the game and when you play like that it trickles down to other kids and they play a level above of what they usually play.”
Powers also has a running list of single-season records — she is the leading all-time record holder for points with 652 in the 2014-15 season, 365 rebounds in 2014-15, 158 free throws in 2014-15 and 24 double-doubles in 2014-15.
What’s on the horizon for no. 23
Because she’s only a junior, with this season winding down Powers only has one more full season to play basketball before she’s out in the real world. Powers definitely has the convincing resume and the track record to try her hand in the WNBA, and that’s very well where she may be headed.
“I want to play in the WNBA and I want to play overseas,” Powers said. “I definitely want to play professionally.”
If Powers decides to explore her options after college, her degree in communication mixed with her experience in basketball could make her a qualified commentator or analyst for a television network.
“You know... the announcers and halftime shows?” Powers said. “I want to do that. But I really want to stay around basketball. I would love to do stuff like that.”
But in the meantime, Powers will enjoy her time at MSU and will continue to grow her legacy.
Powers might not be as well-known as Denzel Valentine, but she is just as important to the Spartans’ success.
“I want to be looked at as one of the best who ever put on a Michigan State jersey,” Powers said. “I want to be remembered as a hard worker, someone that others that put the jersey on can look up to.”