Class is in session.
And Blake Poole, the guest lecturer, is giving a leg-weary opponent yet another lesson in rebounding.
The basketball goes up, bounces off the rim and, invariably, Poole, Saint Martin's senior forward and rebounding machine, pulls down the missed shot.
“He’s relentless,” Saints coach Keith Cooper said. “He just never gives up.”
Poole is Saint Martin’s cure to a missed shot. He’s averaging 12.0 rebounds per game and has been first or second in the country in NCAA Division II all season. He’s his school’s all-time leading rebounder with 1,056, nearly twice as many as the next player on the list.
“He pursues the ball out of his area as well as anyone I’ve seen,” Cooper said.
It’s not that the 6-foot-5 Poole out-jumps opponents, leaping high above the rim to grab yet another rebound.
“He barely gets off the floor,” said Brok Pendleton, Poole’s teammate and practice opponent. “He can barely dunk.”
That’s what makes Poole’s achievement even more impressive in Pendleton’s eyes. In practice, Pendleton has been “lectured” by Poole on rebounding. It’s a lesson in push, shove and retrieve.
“It gets pretty physical,” Pendleton said. “He definitely doesn’t fear contact.”
Poole, who weighs 265 pounds and can bench press 300 pounds, is a miniature Shaquille O’Neal. He’s unmovable.
“He’s strong and he knows how to use his body,” Pendleton said. “It’s nothing cheap or dirty. He just knows how to move people around.”
And how to anchor himself, holding that rebounding position. He’s got opposing coaches’ respect.
“Blake Poole is a big guy who knows how to use his body,” Central Washington coach Greg Sparling said. “He’s a guy who demands double- and triple-teams He’s a guy who can change the face of a game.”
Poole’s secret isn’t jumping. It’s effort.
Rather than wait passively for the ball to come to him, Poole chases it.
“A good rebounder gets every rebound in his area,” Cooper said. “A great rebounder gets those rebounds and the rebounds out of his area that someone else should have had. That’s what Blake does.”
Poole’s penchant for rebounding was shaped by two influences. One, he wasn’t the best ballhandler or the best shooter in pickup games at the park when he was growing up in Eugene, Ore.
“I always got my points off of rebounds,” Poole said.
The other shaping force was his mother, Angel Jones. It wasn’t so much what she said that inspired him. It was how she’d look at him when he’d glance up at her during games.
But make no mistake, Poole, an all-league player at Sheldon High School who averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds his senior year, could hear his mom shouting from the stands as he ran up and down the court.
“Oh, I could hear her,” Poole said, smiling at the fond memory. “She’d yell, ‘Get that ball!’ ”
And Poole usually would, snaring yet another rebound.
“I’d look up there and see her,” Poole said. “And she’d give me this look.”
Angel Jones hasn’t lost her knack. Now living in Maryland, she makes it to only a couple of SMU games each year. Without exception, her only son has played the game of his life each visit. Last season, with his mom in the stands, Poole broke the conference record for rebounds, pulling down 22 in a win against Western Oregon.
A couple of weeks ago, Poole’s mom was in the stands again, cheering and giving that “look.” Poole responded with 24 rebounds, breaking his own conference record.
“She doesn’t go to that many games, so I like to play a little bit harder for her,” Poole said.
There’s more to Poole’s game than grabbing rebounds. He leads the Saints in scoring at 19.2 points per game, and he’s making 57.4 percent of his shots. He’s third in SMU’s all-time scoring list and has averaged a double-double for his career.
Back in Poole’s freshman season, when he never started but still averaged 4.5 rebounds, Cooper saw something special in his rebound-guzzling forward. He thought way back then that Poole had a chance at becoming the school’s all-time leading rebounder.
“In his first few games here, you could see that he was going to be something special,” Cooper said.
Poole got the rebounding records but not the attitude.
“Everyone on campus likes him,” Cooper said. “He’s a very likeable kid.”
As long as you’re not trying to grab a rebound from him.