Jordan Poole is comfortable in his role.
He calls himself — and insists others in the locker room also call him — “The Microwave.” As such, Poole serves as an offensive sparkplug off the bench. When the offense needs creativity, assertion or sure shooting, Poole can provide just that. It’s a role that suits his game as much as his gregarious personality.
“People go to me for the ‘hype guy,’ ” Poole said. “Me personally, I feel like if I hit one, I’m hot.”
At Mackey Arena last Thursday, with the explosive Purdue offense beginning to impose its will while Michigan’s passive offense sputtered ever-so-slightly, the Wolverines needed a spark. In a game that would eventually produce 180 points, any offensive lull could be a death blow.
As Purdue regained the lead, 14-12, with a quick 6-0 spurt, Michigan coach John Beilein inserted the freshman guard.
On his first possession, Poole received the ball on a simple handoff, took three dribbles to his right, stepped back to gain separation and elevated for a mid-range jumper to tie the game up. On the defensive end, Poole attacked the weak dribble of forward Grady Eifert, diving on the floor to force a turnover. He got up, darted for the corner and drained a transition 3-pointer.
In less time than it takes to pop a bag of popcorn, Poole had blitzed the Boilermakers and snagged the lead back.
Microwave on. Mackey silenced.
He did it against Indiana, notching 19 points and taking almost as many shots (10) as he had in the season to date (14). He did it against Illinois, draining consecutive threes to stretch the second half lead and totaling 11 points in an ugly game Michigan had to grind out. He did it against Maryland, sparking a furious comeback with three 3-pointers in a two minute span in the second half, and inciting the loudest eruption at Crisler Center all season.
This has been Poole’s role not only the majority of this season, but even dating back to his senior year of high school, when Poole was the sixth man for his prep school at La Lumiere.
That role helped ease the transition to college, where he knew playing time would be hard to come by at first.
“I’m glad it happened last year,” Poole said. “If I was starting all four years — or three years in a row — in high school, then came here and not started, it could have been a confidence breaker.”
Poole, of course, isn’t devoid of confidence.
This season, he has clearly identified a niche as a bench scorer, and has evolved into a valuable one at that. He scores .58 points per minute, the best on the team. Despite that, Poole plays just 11.0 minutes per game, ninth on the team.
“I’m more of a, ‘Try to come in and make an impact and win the game.’ That’s how I am,” Poole said Monday regarding his role. “Obviously, I want the best for the team.”
But while Poole has thrived in his role so far, this team needs him to be more. What was best for the team in November — when Poole was collecting DNPs — may no longer be what’s best now and into March.
Much of what held him back early in the season revolved around his defensive consistency and shot selection, skills that Beilein now considers to be much improved.
“Jordan Poole’s defense, right now — and it was not good in October, November — it is really coming on,” Beilein said Monday night. “He’s a pretty bright kid, and he gets that. And he also understands, ‘I’m going to play defense and I’m going to take care of the ball or I’m not going to play.’ ”
Finding minutes for the freshman can be a tricky predicament. Senior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and redshirt sophomore Charles Matthews are firmly entrenched in the starting wing spots, the two positions Poole can play offensively. There have been brief attempts to play Abdur-Rahkman at point guard and slide Poole next to him. There may even be opportunities — in certain matchups — to play Matthews at forward next to junior center Moritz Wagner, slotting Poole into the other wing position.
That Beilein is even willing to maneuver the rotation to account for Poole’s emergence, though, signals the importance of his skillset. For a team lacking offensive assertion — one that has scored 62 points or fewer in three of its last four games and is on pace for its second worst adjusted offensive efficiency since 2010 — Poole can be a difference-maker.
“You can see,” Beilein said, “he just does things that you can’t teach.”