Poole credits improvement to working with student manager

Thursday, December 6, 2018 - 6:30pm

Sophomore guard Jordan Poole finished Wednesday’s game with 5-for-8 shooting against the Tar Heels.

Sophomore guard Jordan Poole finished Wednesday’s game with 5-for-8 shooting against the Tar Heels. Buy this photo
Annie Klus/Daily

Jordan Poole once said he never missed three times in a row.

But five minutes into the Michigan men’s basketball game against North Carolina on Nov. 28, he fired from beyond the arc, and the shot clanged out. It was the sophomore guard’s third consecutive misfire.

Two minutes later, Poole subbed out of the game. On the sideline, he found junior Andrew Jensen — a student manager on the team. Jensen reminded him to keep his guide hand straight. At halftime, Jensen watched closely as Poole went through warmups, reminding him each time to watch his guide hand and keep his follow-through locked in. Then he advised Poole to just keep shooting.

The adjustments worked. In the second half, Poole hit four triples and scored 15 points.

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Student managers have a unique role in mentoring players. Like coaches, they see every practice, then watch and rewatch every game. They can pick out intricacies in a player’s habits — like Poole’s crooked guide hand. But unlike a coach, managers are often friends with the players off the court, adding an extra layer of depth to their relationship. That’s the case with Jensen and Poole.

The day they met was a simple case of being in the right place at the right time. But it’s grown into more than that.

“I needed a manager to work out when I first got here last year, coming in before my freshman year,” Poole said. “And he just happened to be in the gym. I introduced myself, he said he was Andrew and … we just always started to work out.”

Jensen was only there for a few days during the summer, but when the school year started up, Poole stuck with him. And this past summer, they took their relationship to a new level. They worked out together 2-3 times a day, working on Poole’s areas of inconsistency, such as shooting and ball-handling.

“I was going through a spurt over the summer where I just really couldn’t make a shot,” Poole said. “ … We work out all the time so he really looks at how I shoot or how I dribble and he was like, ‘Yo, J, I think we need to get your handle tighter back, or start to get it tighter again.’

“And I looked at it and it was just something I kinda was overlooking at the time, but then when I really started to sit down and analyze I was like, ‘For sure, yeah, we definitely need to … start working on my ball-handling,’ and we’ve been doing that and we’ve been dedicated ever since.”

Jensen noticed that Poole often didn’t keep his head up or go at full speed during ball-handling drills. While shooting, he had a tendency to release his off hand, which made the ball go left. Poole got frustrated when shots frequently bounced to the left and Jensen told him exactly what was wrong. Poole listened.

That trust didn’t come right away. At first, Poole was overconfident. Jensen still remembers how, that first summer, Poole would say that he never missed three times in a row and other similar declarations. With that overconfidence came an original hesitance about Jensen’s skill.

But when he underestimated Jensen and it knocked him down a peg, it fueled Poole’s competitiveness and drive to improve.

“Me and another manager, Zach, we guarded him a lot, so he was able to work on his one-on-one skills,” Jensen said. “And I think that he didn’t think we were actually capable defenders because we were managers, but we both played in high school so I think he was a little bit surprised by us. So we always give it to him when we get stops and he gets a little upset about that, but usually he comes back and he scores on us.”

And as they worked together more and more on the court, they also got closer off it — their favorite pastime is playing Call of Duty: Zombies. Their friendship allowed Poole and Jensen to come up with creative drills tailored to the other, but more importantly, it developed a sense of trust between the two that wouldn’t be present with a coach.

“We’re both able to be honest with each other,” Jensen said. “And I think that’s important in a relationship like this. … A lot of people in his position probably wouldn’t listen to a manager, but him, it’s just different. I’m able to critique him and he accepts that.”

Now, if Poole’s shot is off during a game, Jensen knows he can tap Poole on the shoulder and give a simple message: Fix it.

Poole almost certainly will.

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In recent weeks, Michigan coach John Beilein has praised Poole’s improvement on ball-handling. In that game against the Tar Heels, Poole had four assists and no turnovers. And after missing those first three shots, he finished 5-for-8 from beyond the arc. On Saturday, he followed it up with a 5-for-5 performance on 3-pointers against Purdue.

It’s a process, and Poole won’t have perfect shooting or ball-handling overnight. But when asked about his improvements, he’s quick to note he didn’t do it alone.

“It’s definitely been something that I’ve been ... amping up over the summer but especially these past couple weeks,” Poole said on Friday. “It’s (because of) a manager on the team that I’m good friends with. His name’s Andrew.”