The dorm rooms at LaLumiere School are uniform. Pale. Dry. The exact same. So one day, coming off a national championship win, a young Jordan Poole turned to his roommate, future top-five NBA Draft pick Jaren Jackson Jr., with an idea in mind.
“Yo, Jaren, this room — it looks weak,” Poole recalled saying. “Let’s try something else. Let’s try something new.”
“Well, what are you trying to do?” he remembered Jackson asking.
“I don’t know, let’s just start moving stuff around. And whatever we come up with, we come up with.”
The beds got moved to the far wall, next to each other — a desk in the middle. Their TVs moved next to each other, as did the refrigerators, with chairs more conveniently placed. They took out some of the furniture they didn’t like.
“It was basically like one big game of Tetris or something,” Jackson recalled in a phone interview.
That’s Poole’s personality, too, rolled up into one story. He’s excitable, bordering on reckless at times, but everything he does helps a whole lot more than it hurts. That setup was better, allowing more space for more people. It is like his basketball game. When Poole finds a balance between reckless and aggressive, he shines.
Which brings us to Saturday on Michigan’s first possession of the second half, when Poole looked up, ball in his hands, and saw Purdue’s Matt Haarms squared up on him.
The sophomore guard jab-stepped. He started a drive, then crossed over, leaving the Boilermakers’ 7-foot-3 big man a step behind. And then he spotted junior guard Zavier Simpson under the net — the paint otherwise vacated — and he whipped a one-handed pass for an uncontested layup.
It was a small flash, just another easy bucket in a game filled with them for both Poole and the Wolverines. As Michigan dominated Purdue, 76-57, Poole dropped 21 points, a season high, on 8-of-9 shooting from the field, making all five of his shots from beyond the arc — a performance as notable for the shots he didn’t take as it was for those he did.
A year ago, Poole doesn’t make that pass to Simpson. He doesn’t pass out of a potential stepback 3-pointer earlier on in the game with Carsen Edwards recovering to contest either. He didn’t all last year, and often got pulled as a result.
He has learned which shots to take and which to pass up. Games like Saturday’s — efficient, and lethally effective — are the result.
“(He has) gradually learned, less is more,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “And he can get better shots. Guys like that that can get their own shots, have a lot of confidence, gotta realize, ‘I’ll take less shots but I’ll score more points.’ That usually is pretty motivating to people.”
Beilein is more willing to let Poole play through his mistakes now. The sophomore got called for a carry early in the second half against Purdue. Then, on the ensuing defensive possession, he forced a miss from the Boilermakers’ Evan Boudreaux, scrambling to contest a player with a three-inch height advantage at the rim.
Poole himself cited a turnover against Purdue where the coach said nothing to him, knowing he could play through it. He did, drawing a charge.
As for shooting, Poole struggled at the start of the season. He made one of his first 10 attempts from 3-point range. He’s now made nine of his last 10 — and, saving for one towards the end of a blowout win over North Carolina that went in, none have fallen under the label of reckless. Any mistakes he was making in that department seem well behind him.
Asked about any shift in his shot selection and how it might have happened, Poole took a long pause.
”I couldn’t tell you, bro. I don’t know,” Poole said. “When I shoot and coach (Beilein) don’t yell at me for saying it’s a bad shot. I feel like in practice I hit tough shots and I hit shots a lot of the time. When coach is able to see that I can hit those shots on a consistent basis, he lets me shoot them in the game.”
Beilein is letting him shoot, and Poole is providing the reward.
And like one big game of Tetris, his game is falling into place.