Poole Jumps In For More Than Just Defense

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Freshman guard Mike Poole was recruited to Rutgers because of his strong defensive play. However, heading into today's game at Monmouth (7 p.m.), he is Rutgers leading scorer and rebounder off the bench. The transformation is surprising even to coach Mike Rice, and both players spoke with ScarletReport.com about how the change in his game came about.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- On the AAU circuit, Mike Poole was that guy.

Where the defense was comparable to an NBA all-star game, Poole was the one ruining it for the run-and-gunners, and high-flying dunkers.

"Everybody was scoring, so when I got in for my little four minutes, it was ‘I'm gonna get a steal, get a lay-up.' " Poole said. "That's all I wanted to do, get a steal, play passing lanes and be on the ball. Everybody was going to get 30 points. I felt like I could stop a guy from getting 30 points, and maybe I'd get noticed."

So, when Poole became coach Mike Rice's first commitment, he came with the moniker of a superb defensive player, but an offensively-challenged one.

As Rutgers (7-2) takes its four-game winning streak to Monmouth (4-6) for today's (7 p.m.) matchup, Poole goes in as the unexpected top scorer coming off the bench, best rebounder off the bench, and possessor of changed shooting mechanics that is enabling him to flourish offensively.

The 6-foot-6, 185-pound Poole's shot was so, um, non-aesthetically pleasing, the coaching staff reconstructed it.

"It went to the left side of his body before it came back up to the right, so we just made it more fundamental, less movement," Rice said. "I thought he was going to be strictly a defender, and he's been a surprising scorer for us."

Poole is averaging 7.4 points per game in 19.6 minutes, but the unexpected part is his shooting. Poole is making 49.1 percent (27 of 55) from the field. He is also 12 of 15 from the free throw line.

"He's let the offense come to him, and he's been very efficient with his shot," Rice said. "Shooting 46, 48 percent I think is a good number for a freshman."

The shooting success is due largely to shot selection, and understanding his role.

Poole is 1 for 8 from 3-point range, and has tailored his offensive game to consist mostly of mid-range jumpers and shots close to the basket.

"I could always make a shot, but it always looked terrible," Poole said. "I got here and I worked on my shot preparation. I took it real serious. When I got here, (Rice) asked me what my weakness was, and I told him shooting from long-range, and he wanted to fix it from Day 1.

"I still have a tendency to do have turnovers, freshman mistakes, on offense. Shooting, though, I expected this because I put so much time in changing my shot. I feel like I should be shooting the way I'm shooting right now."

Defensively, Poole is holding his own.

Despite playing 19.6 minutes per game, he is fourth on the Scarlet Knights in rebounding at 3.8 per game, and his 12 steals are third. Poole is also playing very good on-ball defense.

"There's times where I feel like I'm the best defender on the court, and there's times I feel like I get a little tired, and then I'm a little weak-minded and I wind up taking a play off, and you really can't."

Another issue is strength, and Poole needs to add a lot of it. He already is seeing how it adversely impacts him during the non-conference season, and it will only be magnified once the Big East season begins.

"These guys are 6-5, 220. I'm 6-6, 185, so I feel strength-wise, I'm not ready," he said. "But, on the other hand, I can do other things. My quick feet and smart decisions will help the lack of strength."

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