Year Inducted: 1995
Schools / Organizations:
Taylorville High School
The Harlem Globetrotters
North Carolina A & T
When former University of Illinois and Taylorville great Bill Ridley was growing up he had wide-eyed respect for a 6’1 Taylorville center Willis Powell.
“He was the first person I ever saw who could palm a basketball,” Ridley said of Powell, who died August 4, 1994. Powell did a lot of other things with a basketball as he captivated his hometown with outstanding performances from 1937 – 1940. Powell and his mates were the first Taylorville team to make it to the Sweet Sixteen in 1940.
Taylorville lost 36-35 to eventual state champion Paris, and the thing Powell, who scored 10 of these points, remembered most was “just that I missed two free throws.”
Powell amazed friends with his slam-dunk ability, but the move was not allowed on the court. Powell attended North Carolina A&T and played basketball on a scholarship. After returning to Illinois, he played on some independent teams with former Taylorville teammates. Referee Ron Gibbs spotted Powell and contacted Abe Saperstein of the Globetrotters about him.
Powell remembered those days and said, “we had practice two times a day.” In 1947, 1948, and 1949, Powell and his Trotter mates played over 300 games a year, including two on Sundays. When Ridley returned to Springfield, he learned his boyhood idol was in a Taylorville Nursing Home. After visiting Powell several times, Ridley became his legal guardian.