Poole's Rutgers Arrival No Laughing Matter

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers freshman guard Mike Poole remembers the reaction he had when former high school teammate Gilvydas Biruta committed to become a Scarlet Knight, and it wasn't flattering. Now, Poole is playing a significant role for the Scarlet Knights. Poole talks about the irony of the situation, whether Big East play is surprising, and how he wound up with the Scarlet Knights.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – When Gilvydas Biruta returned to St. Benedict's High (Newark, N.J.) 14 months ago, Mike Poole laughed.

That was his reaction when Biruta, then a senior forward, told his high school ‘mates he committed to Rutgers.

"We were all laughing at him," Poole said. "It was, ‘Ha, Rutgers!' "

Well, Poole is still laughing, but more at himself for the ignorance and naivety he was displaying. Little did Poole know six months later he would be committing to the Scarlet Knights, and talking about how blessed he was to be given his sole chance to play in the Big East.

The 6-foot-6, 185-pound guard enters today's contest against Georgetown (noon, ESPNU) at the Rutgers Athletic Center as an integral part of the Scarlet Knights, averaging 7.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in 19.9 minutes per game as Rutgers (10-6, 1-3 Big East) looks to rebound from a 14-point loss at Connecticut.

"It worked out perfect," Poole said. "Here, you're in the Big East, where I wanted to play. I always wanted to play in the Big East, and it was an opportunity for me to come in as a sixth or seventh man and prove to all the Big East schools that turned me down that I could play.

"Every day I come in the gym that this is a blessing a Big East school offered me a scholarship. At the end of my senior year I was looking like, ‘Why isn't anyone recruiting me? I work hard every day.' This is just a blessing."

The underappreciated and overlooked approach is working fine for Poole.

His lone offer late into his senior season was from Rhode Island, and he was prepared to commit there the moment he got to campus for a tour. Problem was he never got there.

"We were talking all the time but I never got up there," Poole said. "We just kept pushing it back, pushing it back, and then I got up (to Rutgers) first."

Rutgers first-year coach Mike Rice needed bodies. He had six scholarship players on the roster, and Poole could defend, had a good attitude, and most importantly, was available.

Within a week of Rice being named Rutgers' coach, Poole visited campus. A few days later he committed, and now is going through the rigors of the Big East.

Poole expected a physical, bruising initiation to conference play. Through four games he is averaging 6.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in 22 minutes, but is coming off an 11-point, 10-rebound effort at UConn.

"I thought it would be a lot more physical, Poole said. "It's still physical, but it's not a problem for me. I'm using my quickness so I don't see the strength factor moving in yet."

And although Poole is scoring and rebounding more than expected, his defense continues to stand out, which comes as no surprise to those who see him daily in practice.

Poole is often matched up against sophomore wing Dane.

"He really gets under Dane's skin sometimes because he's really aggressive," Rutgers point guard James Beatty said. "He's not passive on defense. He's really energetic and hyper. He's always reaching with his hands and is trying to take the ball away from you."

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