Spend any time with sophomore guard Jordan Poole and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and the difference between the two personalities is instantly apparent.
Abdur-Rahkman, now graduated and playing in the NBA’s G League, was perpetually calm and collected. On the other end of the spectrum, Poole is among the most colorful players in college basketball. Even before his now-iconic buzzer beater against Houston in the NCAA tournament, he had become a cult figure among Michigan men’s basketball fans despite averaging just 12.5 minutes per game in his freshman season.
While they are polar opposites off the court, Poole now has to step into Abdur-Rahkman’s role as the Wolverines’ starting shooting guard.
“Jordan has to have a bigger role now,” said assistant coach DeAndre Haynes on Monday. “And I think he’s accepted that role. And we told him last year, losing Muhammad, we’re gonna have to dial you up a little bit more.”
After a year of working with Poole, Michigan’s coaching staff knows that he will never replicate Abdur-Rahkman’s composure. But on the court, they need him to replace Abdur-Rahkman’s trademark reliability.
Poole’s primary role in the Wolverines’ offense will be as its go-to three-point shooter after they lost their top three deep-ball threats from last season.
Three-point shooting, though, has never been a challenge for Poole. Coach John Beilein estimates that he has done 30 to 40 shooting tests in preseason without failing a single one.
“For the most part, he’s really had this good feel for, ‘what’s a good shot for me and what’s a good play for me?’ ” Beilein said. “ ‘I’m not gonna turn the ball over, I’m gonna take a quality shot.’ ”
Where Poole will have to adapt to his new role is by limiting turnovers. That — along with defense — was the main issue that kept him off the floor for large swaths of his freshman season. He posted 25 turnovers to just 20 assists, a stark contrast to Abdur-Rahkman’s 132-to-30 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Since Michigan’s August trip to Spain, though, Poole has developed a newfound ability to protect the ball. In the Wolverines’ 17 practices thus far, he and junior point guard Zavier Simpson have combined for the same assist-to-turnover ratio as Simpson and Abdur-Rahkman did last season.
“I think he learned a lot from Muhammad,” Beilein said. “You don’t need to be all out there like that to be really good, you just need to have substance to your game. The assist-to-turnover ratio is really the biggest thing.”
Poole’s defensive progress has also bolstered the coaching staff’s confidence in him. Simpson and redshirt junior Charles Matthews took the accolades on that end of the floor, but Abdur-Rahkman was the same reliable presence defensively as he was on offense.
While Beilein cites Poole’s lack of turnovers as most significant improvement, Haynes calls his defense “the biggest thing” he’s changed over the offseason.
“These last couple practices, he’s been terrific on the floor defensively,” Haynes said. “Cause we told him last year, ‘Man, you gotta play both ends of the floor.’ And now, he’s starting to do it, and he’s starting to realize that ‘Hey, if I do these things, I can stay on the floor but I can also help my team win.’
“And I think Muhammad is another guy that he shows you what it took, and I think (Poole is) doing it as well, he’s starting to step up and say, ‘I gotta be a better defender this week.’ ”
Unlike Abdur-Rahkman, Poole will never be muted in his on-court emotion, nor will he slip under the radar as a hidden star. But after a year of learning from Abdur-Rahkman, he is prepared to fill his void on the court. That, coupled with his signature confidence, is exactly what the Wolverines need.
“I always feel like I was built for this stage,” Poole said. “… Me and (Abdur-Rahkman) are two completely different players, but coach (Beilein) wouldn’t have recruited me if he didn’t have faith in me to step into that role.”