Niyo: Jordan Poole gets to 'show more,' gives Michigan a better shot
Anaheim, Calif. — DeAndre Haynes is a father of three boys, all of them elementary-school age.
But most days, it feels as if there’s one more for Michigan’s young assistant coach. And it’s that one, over there, he says, nodding to the other side of a cramped locker room Wednesday, where sophomore shooting guard Jordan Poole is holding court with a group of reporters on the eve of the Wolverines’ NCAA regional semifinal.
“I tell everybody,” Haynes said, “he’s like my fourth son.”
Then he starts rattling off the latest examples from a frenetic few weeks of basketball, as Michigan’s postseason march beats a similar path — this Sweet 16 trip to southern California feels like déjà vu, “and it’s the kind of déjà vu I like,” jokes U-M athletic director Warde Manuel —with a few players cast in different roles.
None more so than Poole, who a year ago was soaking up the afterglow of his “One Shining Moment” — his buzzer-beater against Houston propelled the Wolverines on their Final Four run — even as he found himself sulking on the bench.
Ask him now what he remembers about that wild ride as a wide-eyed freshman and he’ll talk at length about all fanfare that came with it. But Poole, who won’t turn 20 until June, also recalls drilling another three-pointer less than 2 minutes into Michigan’s Sweet 16 rout of Texas A&M, “and then I didn’t play the rest of the game.” A couple days later, he logged just 2 minutes in the win over Florida State.
And for a player who was blessed — and cursed — by what head coach John Beilein dubbed “an overdose of swag” it was all too much. Or not enough, really.
“I had more to my game than I was able to show,” he said. “Everybody remembers ‘The Shot,’ but I wanted to show that I could do more, offensively and defensively.”
The departure of three starters, specifically Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, meant the opportunity was there to do just that this fall. And after an offseason workout regimen added lean muscle mass to Poole’s 6-foot-5, 195-pound frame — he’s at 8 or 9 percent body fat now — he felt he was ready to handle a bigger workload.
He looked it, too, in big wins over North Carolina and Purdue right after Thanksgiving, smiling and laughing and “shooting the way we all know he can,” said Isaiah Livers, Poole’s roommate and close friend.
“He’s at his best when he’s enjoying the game and he’s having fun,” Haynes said.
But the fun didn’t last for long, and by mid-winter, Poole was back to butting heads with an exasperated Beilein, who doesn’t want his shooters second-guessing open looks but doesn’t want them launching bad ones early in the shot clock, either.
“That’s the dance I dance every day with a couple of players, including Jordan,” Beilein said.
It’s made more awkward by the fact this is Beilein’s worst three-point shooting team (34.9 percent, ranked 156th nationally) since his first season at Michigan in 2009-10. That only amplifies the scrutiny of Poole’s erratic performances, from a stretch in early January where he “jacked some crazy shots,” Haynes said, or the crushing string of late-season losses to Michigan State where Poole shot 35 percent from the field and clearly was pressing.
“When he’s down, you can see it in his face,” Haynes said. “It’s that sad puppy.”
And when Haynes sees that look from his eldest son, he knows the drill.
“Coach says, 'Dre, when you see him like that, make sure we pull him out,’ and that’s what I do,” Haynes said. “Sit him down for a minute, let him take a deep breath and then get him back in the game. Because sometimes I think he just loses track. Especially when he gets tired.”
All the criticism can grow tiresome, too and Poole, who nearly tripled his playing time by averaging 33 minutes a game this season, has taken more than his share after some of his late-game decision-making in the recent losses to Michigan State.
“People are gonna love you when you have a great game and people are gonna be on you as soon as you have a bad game,” Poole said, shrugging. “They’re up and down, they’re left and right. It can really mess with your head and take you places.”
Only if you let it, though. Poole’s Instagram account has nearly 100,000 followers, yet he has posted to it just once in 2019. That’s not by accident.
“I don’t look at the social-media comments, the Twitter stuff, the Instagram, none of that — that’s just outside noise,” he added. “I mean, I block all of it out — I think I do a really good job of that.”
He also leans on his pal Livers — they’ve taken to calling themselves “LiverPoole” — through all the ups and downs.
“All those late-night talks in the dorm room, and before class and before practice,” Livers said. “Most players will keep their mouths shut and keep it in their head. I learned that it’s better to get it off your chest and talk to someone.”
And Poole, well, “He’s a talker,” Livers said, rolling his eyes, “so he’s definitely gonna engage.”
He’s definitely gonna keep shooting, too. Which means Poole and Beilein will keep dancing that dance, and Haynes will keep stepping in, the way a father does.
“Me and him, we’ve got a special kind of relationship, where I can really get to him and say things to him … and he’ll look me in the eye and say, ‘I got you,’” Haynes said. “He really trusts me, he trusts my word.”
And that bond might give Michigan it’s best chance at another long tournament run. Because it wasn't one shot from Poole in the second-round win over Florida last weekend that brought the Wolverines "back to Cali." It was all of them, really, as Poole hit four three-pointers and missed a handful more, but never really gave Haynes that look.
“Because he took the right shots," Haynes said. “And when he’s playing the right way, we’re a much better team.”
NO. 2 MICHIGAN vs. NO. 3 TEXAS TECH
Tip-off: 9:39 p.m. Thursday, Honda Center, Anaheim, Calif.
Records: Michigan 30-6; Texas Tech 28-6
Next up: Winner faces No. 1 Gonzaga or No. 4 Florida State in the Elite Eight.