Detroit — It wasn’t a surprise when Michigan’s Jordan Poole declared for the NBA Draft earlier this month.
With the draft rules allowing underclassmen to test the waters and keep the door open for a possible return to school, Poole was one of 233 players to file as an early entrant candidate and one of 175 from the college ranks.
But when Poole announced last week he was keeping his name in the draft and forgoing his final two years of eligibility, many questioned his decision.
One person who didn’t? Former Fab Five member and 13-year NBA star Jalen Rose.
"Here's what I learned throughout that process. When you look down at the numbers, they never add up,” he said Monday while visiting his Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a tuition-free, open-enrollment high school that has serviced around 700 students since it opened in 2011 and is expecting its first wave of college graduates this spring.
“What I mean is the number of early entrants versus the number of people who are going to get drafted. There are 30 people (in the first round) that are going to have guaranteed contracts and there are 60 people that are going to get drafted. So you ask yourself, 'Why am I entering the draft? Am I entering the draft because I'm happy with my draft status? Or am I entering the draft to pursue my professional career?' What I had to learn to do is allow people to have both.”
Poole’s decision appears to lean toward the latter. He is projected to be a late second-round pick (No. 51 overall) by Sports Illustrated, but he’s not listed in ESPN’s or NBADraft.net’s most recent two-round mock drafts.
Poole, who will turn 20 the day before the June 20 draft, is ranked No. 55 in Sports Illustrated’s top-100 draft prospects and No. 68 in ESPN’s top 100 list.
He also has reportedly received an invitation to the NBA Combine, though the league won’t likely release the official participant list for the May 14-19 event until later this week or next week.
Of course, Poole (6-foot-5, 195 pounds) will have the chance to help himself during pre-draft workouts and scrimmages, as well as at the combine if he indeed does garner an invite, which would be an encouraging sign that NBA teams are interested.
“You're allowed to declare if you're not going to be a top-five pick or a lottery pick or a projected first-round pick,” Rose said. “We've seen even with the NFL Draft this past weekend, how many players — like Tom Brady. He went in the sixth round. And then you see people who go undrafted and end up being really good players.
“This is your opportunity to chase your dream and play professional basketball and it doesn't just happen in the NBA.
"There’s the G-League, there’s overseas, there's multiple leagues. I support people pursuing their goals and their dreams.”
Michigan coach John Beilein’s track record certainly would indicate that Poole would’ve benefited from another year in Ann Arbor. Former Wolverines Nik Stauskas and D.J. Wilson both went from not being on NBA teams’ radar one year to first-round picks the next, while Trey Burke considered leaving after his freshman season only to return to become the national player of the year and a top-10 pick.
Yet, even if Poole did return to Michigan for his junior year, there’s no guarantee his draft stock would greatly improve. Teammate Charles Matthews was projected to be a late second-round pick last year before he opted to come back, and he’s predicted to be selected in the same range this year.
Poole also noted earlier this month he wished he would've had the ball in his hands more and would've been put in more ball-screen situations to showcase his game. But with ball-dominant guard Zavier Simpson returning, there might not be as many opportunities for that next season as Poole would've liked.
“Any time you enter the draft you're taking a risk. I went lower than I thought I was going to go,” said Rose, who was the No. 13 overall pick in the 1994 draft. “I was sitting there like Randy Moss at the draft. I was wondering who a couple of guys were who went in front of me, too.
“(Teams) can tell you, 'Hey, we're going to take you 25th,’ and then they don’t take you at all. They can say you're a late second-rounder and then the Spurs come and draft you at No. 26 and everybody is like, 'That's a Spurs-type pick.' It's an inexact science.”
If Poole becomes a late second-round pick or even goes undrafted, Rose said that won’t slap a label on Poole that will diminish his value and be hard to shed.
Rose pointed to several players on the San Antonio Spurs as examples. Former Michigan State standout Bryn Forbes has become a full-time starter in his third year with the Spurs after going undrafted in 2016. Patty Mills has played in 605 career games over 10 NBA seasons after being the No. 55 overall pick in the 2009 draft. Second-year guard Derrick White dropped 36 points on the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs and “nobody knew who he was out of Colorado.”
"Because here's what happens when they throw the ball up — you've got to play. It doesn't matter if you were the third pick or didn't get drafted,” Rose said. “You can go No. 10 and be out of the league in two or three years, too.
“Like any profession, it comes down to how you perform."
Poole has a skill set that translates to the NBA, with his ability to create off the dribble, get his own shot and knock down catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. He ranked second on Michigan in scoring at 12.8 points per game and shot 36.9 percent from beyond the arc in his first season as a full-time starter.
For Poole to stick in a league of positionless basketball, Rose said the key for him is to keep expanding his ball-handling, passing and shooting skills and prove he can defend multiple positions in a multitude of scenarios.
Only time will tell whether Poole can — and whether his gamble pays off.
“If you decide not only am I going (into the draft), but I'm going to go all the way and I'm going to get an agent and do all of that,” Rose said, “we've got to let the journey determine whether it was ultimately a good basketball decision or not.”