East Lansing — Aerial Powers is arguably the best to play women’s college basketball at Michigan State.
Powers is five points from becoming the school’s career leading scorer, and 13 points shy of surpassing her season scoring mark. She is the only player in program history to be all-Big Ten three times.
The redshirt junior is so talented she might be starting her final run with the Spartans in the NCAA Women’s Tournament.
With a degree in hand, the 22-year-old Detroit native may decide to skip her last season of eligibility to enter the WNBA draft. Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd and Minnesota’s Amanda Zahui B. left school early last year and were selected with the first two picks overall.
“I’m happy that it is there for me, but I’m just thinking about the Tournament,” Powers said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m focused on getting this team in the right mindset and taking advantage of where we are in this bracket. I think we’ll do well, and I’m excited about that.”
No. 4 seed Michigan State opens its 12th Tournament in 14 years Friday against No. 13 Belmont.
If Michigan State avoids getting upset, it will play at Mississippi State instead of at Breslin Center because it was booked for the state high school girls basketball tournament.
Powers did not sound worried about the challenge of playing at No. 5 Mississippi State.
“I think they’re very beatable,” she said. “They have a quick point guard, they have (Victoria Vivians), but where we can get them is down low in the post because I don’t think their post can match up ours as well as other teams.”
Powers is confident enough in her team’s ability to win two games that she willingly talked about a potential Sweet 16 matchup with top-seeded Connecticut, which is trying to win an unprecedented fourth straight national championship and 11th title overall.
“These are the kind of opportunities that you dream about,” she said. “The fact that it’s right there in front of us, we need to take full advantage of it. So yes, I open them with open arms.”
The 6-foot Powers is the star of an experienced and balanced team with four double-digit scorers led by a veteran coach, Suzy Merchant. She averages 22.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and nearly three assists.
“I think Aerial will go down as one of the best, if not the best (in school history) because of her versatility,” Merchant said. “Not many people can do what she can do. … She’s a point forward, a hard thing to find in our game.”
Merchant would have a hard time replacing Powers if she goes pro early, but hopes the lure of another priceless year in college will be enough to keep her on campus.
“I just don’t know if the money is enough (in the WNBA),” Merchant said. “It sounds good, but for what? For $35,000? In some ways, you can work on a second degree and end up making much more.”
Powers could make even more next year if she is willing to play in the WNBA and overseas.
“Aerial would probably make six figures, but it’s such a different life,” Merchant said. “There’s nothing like staying a part of something with your sisters, and not doing a job. She is a talented kid and no matter where her dreams take her, we’ll support her.”
4 Michigan State vs. 13 Belmont
Tip-off: Noon Friday, Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, Miss.
Records: Michigan State 24-8, Belmont 24-8
Outlook: This is first meeting. ... Belmont earned an automatic bid by winning the Ohio Valley Conference tournament title, beating Eastern Kentucky. ... Michigan State has qualified for the NCAA Women’s Tournament 12 of the last 14 seasons.