Last February, Crisler Center filled with bathing suits and pool noodles — a strange sight on a snowy mid-winter afternoon in Ann Arbor. The ‘Poole Party’ theme had been organized by the Maize Rage — Michigan’s courtside student section — to celebrate Jordan Poole, the team’s swaggering freshman guard.
The freshman Poole wanted to give the crowd what they came to see. He came off the bench midway through the first half and immediately fired off two 3-point attempts. Both clanged iron. The rest of the game was no different. Poole attempted four threes, made none of them, and finished with zero points in 12 minutes.
Saturday against South Carolina, the Maize Rage brought the ‘Poole Party’ theme back. With a year of experience under his belt, the sophomore Poole hit 8-of-12 field goal attempts en route to a career-high 26 points, as the Wolverines won 89-78.
“I wasn’t really thinking about it,” Poole said of this year’s ‘Poole Party.’ “I think last year, I was thinking about it. … Being a freshman, I only played 11 minutes, I kinda wanted to go out there, because it was a Poole Party, and play excited.”
Games like the Minnesota one weren’t unusual for Poole last year. He quickly became a fan favorite, often providing a spark off the bench, like he did in a 19-point game against Indiana or a 4-of-5 showing from the three against Ohio State. But other times, he was invisible, scoring less than six points in half of Michigan’s games.
“Last year as a freshman, he’d have moments in which he didn’t look as good as he really was,” said South Carolina coach Frank Martin. “Cause he’d get wrapped up in the emotion of the game.”
Earlier this season, it seemed as if Poole hadn’t changed. He totaled just 13 points over the Wolverines’ first three games. When it looked as if he busted his slump in a 22-point performance against George Washington, he followed up with four against Providence the next day.
Since then, Poole has been the star that Michigan expected him to be coming into the season, hitting 17-of-28 threes and scoring at least 14 points in five straight games.
“I just feel like I’m letting the game come to me,” Poole said. “Taking the right shots but also being aggressive.”
“… I feel like I was overthinking, ‘What’s a good shot, what’s a bad shot?’ So focused about assists to where I was passing up a lot of stuff. But now coach is giving me the green light to be aggressive. They feel like I’m one of the best shooters in the country.”
That green light paid dividends early in the second half when the Gamecocks cut Michigan’s deficit to six.
Poole pulled up and hit a three with a defender draped all over him. Then another one, followed by a fast-break dunk. He had effectively shut the door on South Carolina’s comeback hopes and rewarded his coach’s green light all in a two-minute stretch that exemplified everything he was anointed to be last season.
As he jogged to Michigan’s huddle after his dunk forced Martin into a timeout, students hurled snorkels and beach towels into the air in jubilation.
Somehow — on a freezing December day — that now seems normal.