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Drake Powell, Tounde Yessoufou treat Oregon to rare matchup between 5-star recruits at Capitol City Classic

“I feel like we can both grow as players, playing against each other”
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One is from North Carolina. 

The other is from California. 

They’re considered to be two of the top high school boys basketball players in the country.

They finally got to match up — all the way out in Oregon. 

And everybody was thrilled about it. 

Drake Powell, a senior guard for the Northwood Chargers from Pittsboro, N.C., and Tounde Yessoufou, a junior forward for the St. Joseph Knights from Santa Maria, Calif., helped lead their respective teams to the championship game of the Capitol City Classic, played Wednesday, Dec. 20, at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.

There seemed to be much anticipation all around the court at Willamette University when Powell and Yessoufou stepped on the hardwood for the opening tipoff — and rightfully so.

a St. Joseph California vs Northwood North Carolina boys basketball Capitol City Classic final Salem Oregon December 20 2023 Leon Neuschwander 47

The 6-foot-6 Powell, who has committed to play college basketball for the University of North Carolina, entered the tournament as a 5-star recruit and is ranked the No. 2 small forward and the No. 4 prospect in the class of 2024 by 247Sports.

The 6-foot-5 Yessoufou entered the tournament ranked as a 5-star recruit by, as well as being ranked the No. 7 player in the country in the class of 2025 by HoopSeen.

Maybe no one was more excited about the matchup than Powell and Yessoufou themselves.

“Drake and I, we play a lot of showcases together, so I already know his type of play,” Yessoufou said after helping lead St. Joseph to a 64-38 win over Northwood in the title contest. “No matter what, he’s always going to get his buckets. But, at the same time, I’ll also get mine.”

“I love playing against those top guys,” Powell said. “I feel like we can both grow as players, playing against each other.”

The super-athletic Yessoufou got off to a bit of a rough start in the championship contest. He scored four first-quarter points. He sat out the final 6 minutes and 24 seconds of the second quarter after picking up his third foul, with two of those fouls coming on offensive charging calls.

But when a fired-up Yessoufou returned to the court to start the third quarter, there basically was no stopping him. He scored 16 points in the period — mainly in breathtaking, spectacular style.

Santa Maria St. Joseph wing Tounde Yessoufou is averaging over 30 points per game during his junior season.

Among his baskets in the quarter were a thunderous two-handed dunk off an alley-oop pass from St. Joseph senior Ramon Cota, a baseline drive that ended with a wrap-around reverse layup and three very long-range 3-point baskets. Yessoufou also had two rebounds, a steal and a block in the period. 

Yessoufou’s huge third-quarter performance didn’t come as any surprise to St. Joseph sophomore guard Julius Price, who topped all scorers in the championship game with 27 points.

“He’s a high-level player,” Price said of Yessoufou. “He’s just a stud, man.”

Yessoufou, who sank another long 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, finished the game with 25 points on 10-of-19 shooting, six rebounds, two assists, two blocks, two steals and three rim-rattling dunks.

“No matter what, we’re going to keep pushing hard and try to win,” said Yessoufou, who had 22 points and four 3-point baskets in the second half.

Powell also overcame a bit of a slow start in the championship clash. After scoring two points in the first quarter, he got rolling. He connected on a 3-pointer on his way to scoring five points in the second quarter, and he pulled down three rebounds in the period.

Like Yessoufou, Powell really picked things up in the third quarter. He had a dunk and a 3-pointer on his way to scoring seven points in the period, and he had five rebounds. Powell also had a sequence where he blocked a shot, grabbed the ball and passed ahead for a Northwood layup.

Powell finished with a double-double, including a team-high 19 points and a game-best 10 rebounds to go with three blocks, an assist and a steal.

a St. Joseph California vs Northwood North Carolina boys basketball Capitol City Classic final Salem Oregon December 20 2023 Leon Neuschwander 34

The reason for the big performances, at least in part, might be having each other on the court. 

“That’s definitely motivation,” Powell said. “It makes us better, and it’s a lot of fun.”

“Absolutely, we make each other better,” Yessoufou said. “Playing against a 5-star player like that is always fun.”

Yessoufou and Powell were both spectacular throughout the 16-team tournament.

Yessoufou opened the tournament by scoring 42 points on 18-of-22 shooting (5 of 7 from 3-point range) with 10 rebounds, three assists and five steals in a 98-24 win against South Salem, Ore.

In the quarterfinals, a 60-43 victory against Beaverton, Ore., Yessoufou had 26 points, nine rebounds, two assists and a steal. He stepped up with 36 points and 14 rebounds in a 74-60 win against nationally ranked Lincoln Park, Pa.

Powell opened the tournament by scoring 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting with eight rebounds, two assists and a steal in a 72-46 win over North Salem, Ore. He had 11 points, three rebounds, an assist and a steal to help the Chargers run to a 70-38 quarterfinal win over Woodburn, Ore.

In the semifinals, against two-time defending Oregon 6A state champion Tualatin, Powell had a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, and he added three assists and a block in a 73-64 victory.

While Yessoufou and Powell pushed each other when facing off at the high school level, there certainly seems to be the possibility that they could meet again at a higher level, maybe in college basketball — or even beyond that.

“Yeah, I hope so,” Powell said with a smile.

Vote: Who was the top boys basketball star at the Capitol City Classic 2023?