WICHITA, Kan. — A half hour after Jordan Poole dropped the dagger, Moritz Wagner couldn’t resist twisting the hell out of it.
“He’s never gonna shut up now,” the Michigan forward said, snaking a giant right arm around the shoulder of Poole as the paparazzi closed in on the freshman guard’s locker stall. “Never. Never.”
“I can’t talk? What?” Poole countered.
— Sean Keeler (@SeanKeeler) March 18, 2018
This one? This one was for the kids. The kids who should have been in bed but weren’t on a St. Patrick’s Saturday night, the night Poole’s Prayer pulled Michigan’s backside out of the fire and into the Sweet 16 of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
The kids who see the players and see themselves, grown up, rising when that One Shining Moment taps them on the shoulder. The kids who never, ever forget.
Mr. Overdose of Swag was one of those kids once, not that long ago, back in Milwaukee. The madness seared into his soul came five NCAA Tournaments earlier, when former Wolverines star Trey Burke dropped a 30-footer on Kansas in 2013 during a regional semifinal, forcing overtime in Dallas, the final strike of the chisel to what had been a 14-point Jayhawks lead.
https://t.co/i7GkMCLw8a Like it matters…
— The Player & The Fan (@theplayerthefan) March 11, 2018
“I had never thought about going to Michigan, never,” Poole recalled early Sunday morning at an Intrust Bank Arena still buzzing over his 25-foot heave at the horn, the rainbow that somehow lifted the Wolverines to a 64-63 victory over Houston.
“I was just watching TV, watching the game. And I didn’t know anything about [Michigan].
“That was a huge shot. That sent them eventually going to the national title [game]. Especially being in a uniform like this. And he was in the same one.”
Holy Jordan Poole!! At the buzzer…for the Win! Wow! (3)Michigan has life after a great contest with (6)Houston. #MarchMadness #Michigan #Wolverines #JordanPoole #NCAATournament #NCAATourney pic.twitter.com/HX6bJFreSX
— DT Sports Media (@CallDT) March 18, 2018
The Wisconsin native smiled, letting the synergy sink in for a second. A pedestal shared.
“Man, I’m just amazed.”
This one? This one was for the kids. The kids who take the NCAA Tournament as their wind and wings. The kids who take the rock out to the driveway or the neighborhood blacktop and try to replicate, somehow, what they just saw on television.
What wound up as Poole’s Prayer had started as an inbounds play coach John Beilein drew up called Indiana, a gambit that centered around senior Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. In a perfect world, Abdur-Rahkman would — to use football vernacular — be given an option route; he was to flash from the half-court line toward the lane, where he could stop-and-pop, try to lay it in, or turn and kick.
Only with 3.6 seconds left on the clock, No. 12 had neither perfection nor time in his corner. Wolverines forward Isaiah Livers, who excelled as a pitcher and center fielder growing up, fired a one-handed strike from behind the baseline to Abdur-Rahkman that was caught short of the half-court stripe.
No. 12 dribbled past the line, where he was swarmed by two Cougars defenders as he reached the giant N on the MARCH MADNESS logo at midcourt. Poole, meanwhile, cut toward Abdur-Rahkman and set himself a few steps behind the 3-point arc in order to get a cleaner look. No. 12 drove left and dished right, and Poole let fly from about 25 feet out, legs kicking wildly in the air as he shot himself into NCAA Tournament history forever:
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) March 18, 2018
“It’s the right man in that situation,” Wagner would say later. “I first thought, ‘OK, he’s going to fall.’ He sold it well, too. He sold it nice. Maybe he gets three free throws, if we’re lucky. [But] I’d take that. I’d take that. I’d take the make instead.
“I turned around and it went in. And that moment will never forget in my life. I chased him around the court. Why would I do that? Why would I chase him? But that was incredible, dude. The man is like — he missed a lot of shots, but when he makes this one, I’m good with that.”
Poole knew he was one of the options on the wing waiting for the kick, if it came to that. As Beilein went over the play in the huddle, the freshman imagined soaring over his defender, the shot going in, and complete bedlam.
“I knew what we were going to do, so it was kind of like second nature at that point,” said Poole, a reserve whose 8 points against the Cougars were the most he’d scored in a contest since netting 12 at Maryland on Feb. 24. “But then I’m thinking, like, ‘Well, if I get the opportunity, I’ve got to knock the shot down.’
“People dream of stuff like this and … I made it.”
And despite the swarming insanity that followed, his teammates were actually the least surprised of anyone in the building. In turns out Poole had connected on last-second 3-pointers at least twice during intrasquad scrimmages that were held during the Wolverines’ dead week between the Big Ten Tournament and the Big Dance.
“He’s built for that,” Michigan senior Duncan Robinson said of Poole. “He hit an end-of-the-half 3 from 28 feet and he hit a game-winner from 26, both at the end of both halves. Hit them both. He’s done it all year, and it’s incredible.”
This one? This one was for the kids. The kids who didn’t know anything about Ann Arbor. The kids who never thought about going to Michigan, never.
Better than Trey Burke shot against Kansas 🤔😈〽️〽️〽️〽️💪🏻💪🏻💪🏻 pic.twitter.com/tBWfN3MXeQ
— Atrain (@Atrain1845) March 18, 2018
“It’s crazy for me to fathom right now, because, just a couple years ago, I used to be that kid,” Poole said. “And with all this social media and stuff … I’m probably getting so many DMs and messages.
“I’m definitely going to respond. Because I know if I was a young kid trying to hit them up, I would respond.”
“It’s just crazy to think about right now. I’m speechless, bro.”
Join the club, bro. Join the club.