"Illini advance with faith restored by an unlikely savior" / St. Petersburg Times

By night's end, the minister had worked up a sweat.

He had grabbed everyone's attention in the previous 40 minutes and now offered a parting message of praise. Head tilted back, arms raised, he used his index fingers to point skyward. Thousands watched and cheered.

He was, you might say, preaching to the choir.

Roger Powell is a Pentecostal minister. A frequent guest in the pulpit at the Mount Zion Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Joliet, Ill., where his parents listen to his sermons and worshipers follow his words.

Roger Powell is also an Illinois basketball player. A senior forward who does much of the grunt work on a team of stars.

Someday soon he may be in the business of saving souls.

On Saturday night he settled for rescuing a season.

Everything about Powell feels engaging. From the generosity of his grin to the profoundness of his calling.

He wears his devotion on his sleeve, and his shoes too. Across the toes and down the sides of his sneakers are citations for his favorite Bible verses.

Isaiah 41:10 is next to Matthew 9:26.

Galatians 5:22 bumps up to Proverbs 11:2.

He is a walking testimony to his faith.

And when it was nearly done, when the clock was counting down and the Illinois fans were calling his name, Powell looked heavenward and raised his fingers in celebration.

"I was pointing to Jesus," Powell said. "I was really thankful."

In a time of crisis, you turn to the source of your faith.

In the case of Illinois, that means Roger Powell.