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Hoop dreams drive Poole


When John'a Poole started playing basketball with her big sister Jamie in front of their Middle River home, it was love at first sight.

"When I was little, it was everything - basketball, basketball, basketball," said the Eastern Tech senior, who turns 18 today.

Not much has changed. Poole, whose first named is pronounced "Ja-NAY," got serious about basketball when she was 12 and has been aiming for the WNBA ever since.

While many young girls say they want to make it to the WNBA, Poole expects it.

"I plan on making it, not maybe," said Poole, a 5-foot-8 forward-guard who, at 16, got a tattoo on her lower back - a silhouette of Michael Jordan in action.

Poole has a natural feel for the game, especially on offense. Versatile with a good jump shot and better moves around the hoop, she has led the metro area in scoring for two straight years. She averages 24.8 points this season and 17.5 for her career.

"She's more of a scorer than a pure shooter," Eastern Tech coach John Earles said. "She can shoot from outside. She can take it inside. She can rebound and score. She can steal the ball and score. She's worked hard on her shooting. She's a lot better three-point shooter this year than she's ever been."

Poole has scored 1,658 career points at Eastern Tech and has grabbed 940 rebounds.

As a freshman, Poole started at center. Now, she spends a lot more time in the backcourt, but she can - and does - still play anywhere the Mavericks (17-3) need her. She also averages 11.9 rebounds this season.

"She's a tall girl who plays like a guard," New Town coach Pam Wright said. "I love her game. Her size really helps her. She can go inside on you, she can shoot the three and she's not bad on defense. She's a take-over-a-game player."

Earles uses Poole's repertoire of skills to the Mavericks' advantage: "Wherever she goes best that game is where she plays that game."

Her combination of big scoring and versatility drew about 10 college scouts and coaches to the Eastern Tech gym during the past six weeks. Just 10 days ago, Poole found the right fit when she visited Wagner College during the snowstorm. Before she left Staten Island, she had orally committed to the Division I program and plans to sign this week.

Her father, John Poole, said he saw the makings of a Division I prospect from the time his 12-year-old tomboy daughter started playing organized ball on a Gardenville Recreation Council team.

"As soon as she started playing, everybody saw it. Just the way she took to the game, the moves, plus she was the tallest one when she started. She had real good moves and really played the game well," John Poole said.

She was also willing to learn and work hard on her skills, said Jim "Snuffy" Smith, the Bryn Mawr coach who coached Poole on the Amateur Athletic Union Maryland Hurricanes team when she was 14.

"A lot a kids at that age have it so easy. When they play 14-and-under travel, they dominate, but she had a work ethic with that," Smith said. "The difference in her and other kids who are great athletes is she worked on fundamental skills to go with it, which makes her a difficult matchup in high school. She'll overpower a guard and she can just go by a forward."

Poole, the fourth of five sisters who jokes that she got her first name because she was supposed to be a boy, hones her skills against the boys on her neighborhood court.

When her sister Jamie returned home last summer from Virginia Tech, where she plays club basketball, the two headed for the court almost every day.

"It makes us tougher, playing with guys," Poole said. "The guys' game is more quick and fast-paced. We've got to be not so prissy, get in there and play with them. The guys don't take it easy on us, so we've just got to show them we girls know how to play basketball."

Although she has been a big scorer since she was little, Poole has worked hard recently to improve her jump shot.

At practice over the summer with her AAU team, the Baltimore Ravens, she worked with shooting coach Mike Buchanan, Notre Dame Prep's coach.

"She had a pretty good outside shot as it was, but she was a string-puller, not holding her follow-through long enough. Once she started holding the follow-through, she got more consistent arc on her shot, leading to a better shooting percentage," Buchanan said.

For Poole, leading the metro area in scoring as a junior was a huge accomplishment. As an encore, she wants to finish off this season in the top spot. She has kept the lead but has been pushed by Walbrook's Victoria Green, who averages 24.0.

Poole's scoring average has dropped about five points this season, but that is a reflection of an improved Mavericks team. A team captain, she likes to get everyone involved and happily dishes out 3.8 assist per game.

"When my team needs me to score, I'll do so," Poole said. "I know when it's time to pass the ball off and when it's time for me to do what I can do. My coach, he allows me to do that, so he trusts me with making decisions on the court."

So do her teammates.

"She is always willing to push, to go the extra mile," said Mavericks senior forward Katie McKay, after a win over Lansdowne a couple of weeks ago. "She never quits. Like we were down right here and she really did lift us up. She starts scoring or she starts passing and she'll pick up everyone else and the whole tempo will change."

Poole, who thinks about a career in coaching after the WNBA, would like to finish her high school career by leading the Mavericks to the state semifinals for the first time in school history. She likely will finish second on the Mavericks' all-time scoring list behind 1998 graduate Elisha Carter, who tallied 1,992 points,

Now that she's made her mark at Eastern, those who have coached her say she's just getting started.

"Considering that she's playing low Division I [college basketball at Wagner], I think she's going to be an impact player at that level," said her Ravens coach, Shawn Shannon. "We played a competitive AAU schedule, and as an individual player she was competing against some really special kids, and I didn't see anyone better than her."

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