VESTAL – The final dress rehearsal for the Bearcats will also serve as a homecoming game for a pair of local former high school basketball standouts.
Binghamton University’s Events Center will host a basketball doubleheader on Friday with the Binghamton women’s team playing Division II Mansfield University at 5:30 p.m. in its only exhibition game of the preseason. The Binghamton men host Division III Oswego State at 8 o’clock.
Oswego’s roster includes senior forward Rashawn Powell, an Endicott resident and Johnson City High graduate, and sophomore guard Walter Sampson, a Binghamton resident and Binghamton High graduate.
“It’s going to be very energetic, and I’m very anxious to play there,” Powell said last week, adding that he heard from a handful of family members when the schedule got released and it included a game at Binghamton University.
Powell is the lone senior on an Oswego team that went 17-10 last season and has advanced to the SUNYAC semifinals the past two seasons. His freshman season the team went 26-4, won the SUNYAC title and made it to the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament.
“I expect just to play my role as a leader on my team, keep my team motivated to do the right things,” Powell said, putting another SUNYAC title atop his list of goals.
The Oswego duo will be on the visiting team, but they’ve had their own memorable moments in the Events Center.
One of the defining moments of Powell’s senior season at Johnson City (2010-11) came in the Southern Tier Athletic Conference championship game against Seton Catholic Central in the BU Events Center. Powell, a 6-foot-4 energetic forward, scored a game-high 19 points and held 6-foot-10 Princeton-bound Bob Garbade to just eight points (roughly half of Garbade’s season average).
Sampson, a 6-foot tall guard who moved over from point guard to play off the ball as a senior because of the addition of KJ Rose, led Binghamton with 17 points in a STAC championship game win as a senior in the Events Center in February 2012.
“As soon as I told my mom she was really excited and she started telling all my family,” Sampson said of playing in the Events Center.
Both Powell and Sampson are familiar with the Binghamton University program. Powell was in the JC program at the same time as Mark Macon, the son of the former BU men’s basketball coach with the same name.
Sampson attended summer basketball camps run by former Bearcats coach Al Walker growing up. Sampson also followed the exploits of former Binghamton High star Jimmy Gray who turned himself from walk-on to scholarship player and captain of the Bearcats. Gray regularly worked out with players from the Binghamton High program while he was in college.
Now, they’ll suit up and get a chance to show how they’ve grown as players in front of a Southern Tier crowd. Their nearest conference game annually takes place in Cortland, about 45 minutes from Binghamton.
“Rashawn is really a great example of perseverance,” Oswego coach Jason Leone said. “I have a lot of respect for what he’s done here. … He learned a lot in those two years where a lot of kids would’ve bagged it.”
As a freshman, Powell sat behind first-team Division III All-America selection Chad Burridge. The next season, he backed up a third-team Division III All-America selection in Hayden Ward.
Last season, Powell averaged 11.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game and shot 47 percent from the floor last season as a starting forward (27 starts in 27 games). Leone described the undersized Powell’s strongest attributes as competitive spirit and heart.
Similarly to how Powell’s collegiate career started, Sampson held a reserve role as both a freshman and sophomore. His playing time increased late last season after an injury sidelined all-conference guard Brian Sortino.
Sampson stepped into the rotation and made himself a major contributor in the final eight games of his sophomore season. He played an average of 16.8 minutes per game and provide scoring punch off the bench, tossing in an average of 5.6 points per game during that stretch. Three times during that stretch he scored 10 points or more.
“That’s a tribute to him, and I think that gave him a lot of confidence going into his junior year,” Leone said.
Sampson, who said he regularly plays during the summer at the Binghamton Boys and Girls Club along with Powell, former JC basketball players Grant Vicks and Isaiah Washington, tries not to let himself think about how sweet it would be to get a win in the Events Center in front of friends and family.
“As long as our team does what we have to do I think we’ll have a good outcome win or lose,” Sampson said rather diplomatically.
In 2011-12, Oswego gave Division I University of Texas Pan-American all it could handle in a regular-season game in Texas. UTPA won the game 59-54, but the score remained tied going into the final five minutes.
Leone, who had previous coaching stops at Mercyhurst College and Keystone College, has known Binghamton University coach Tommy Dempsey and his family for years. Dempsey is also a former coach at Keystone College. Leone credits Dempsey’s aunt with initially introducing him to his wife.
Leone, who worked several camps at Rider University as a young coach when Dempsey was running that program, unleashed no shots across the bow at his longtime coaching buddy. Instead he made it clear that he considers the game a part of preseason and a chance to learn more about his team.
While he and his staff always preach the competitive nature of the game he stressed that it is an exhibition game and that his squad is “ultimately focused on the process of getting better.”
On Twitter: @PSBLynn