NJ’s Poole hits road for East-West duty

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After 21 years as a head coach at two different schools, Jay Poole hasn’t lost his edge as it relates to being a basketball junkie.

His latest assignment as an assistant coach for the 44th annual East-West All-Star girls basketball game hasn’t quelled that fire in the slightest. In fact, it’s arguably enhanced it with the responsibility of vetting the sea of player nominations that pour in from across the state, and with that, paring it down to the 10 players that will represent the East on July 16 at Greensboro Coliseum.

Jay Poole, the basketball coach, meet Jay Poole, the recruiter and scout.

“I’ve gone everywhere from Roxboro to Vanceboro to Wilmington to Durham,” Poole said in a telephone interview Monday. “I’ve been all over the place watching these kids play, and just trying to see almost a mindset when I sit down. 

“OK, show me why you should be on the East-West team is kind of my mindset. And you look for things like defense and energy and the intangibles. Are they unselfish?”

Poole, who spent 14 years as head coach at Raleigh Leesville Road before moving to North Johnston to succeed the retiring David Bagwell in 2011, will be joined by East head coach Kim Miller of Swansboro. It’s the first all-star coaching honor for Poole, a UNC Wilmington graduate. His most recent North Johnston team finished 18-7 and 5-5 in the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference and started the season by winning its first 14 games. That squad was anchored by Tayanna Jones, the 2018 Wilson Times Girls Player of the Year who will continue her career at NCAA Division I Georgetown University.

Poole will also hit a milestone at North Johnston with his first victory of 2018-19, owning a career record of 99-75 in his seven seasons in Kenly.

“I’m only here because of good players and good assistant coaches,” Poole said. “I’m just very blessed, and I understand that. I’m not taking this for granted at all. Nobody can do any of this alone, I’ve had a lot of help. I feel very fortunate. I’ve checked my ego at the door years ago and I’m just very appreciative for this opportunity.”

Poole’s teams have enjoyed a reputation of being well-coached, disciplined outfits with an attention to detail. While his offenses remain based in a consistent group of core principles, the defensive philosophies shift with the personnel available. With Jones at his disposal last year at the top of a press, the Lady Panthers turned into a pressing unit. In other situations, North Johnston is content getting back and turning the proceedings into a half-court style of play.

“This could have gone to a number of different men or women,” Poole said. “I feel very honored, and just kind of taken off guard. But I’m very happy to do it. It was a wide range of emotions when I got the phone call, and I’m thrilled about it.”

Poole notes his East squad will be outsized against the West, headed up by Winston-Salem Mount Tabor’s Rick Anderson and assisted by Barbara Helms of Hickory. Coaches report on Friday, with the players to follow one day later. Game planning is expected to be limited with only four practices.

Running the point guard duties for the West will be Journey Muhammad of Charlotte Ardrey Kell, the daughter of former Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears wide receiver Mushin Muhammad.

The East roster consists of Robbi Allen (Nash Central), Azariah Fields (Wilmington New Hanover), Elana Ingram (Roxboro Community), Nyjanique Langley (North Pitt), Areon Laurent (Jacksonville), Jada McMillian (Southeast Raleigh), Danielle Heath (Kinston), London Thompson (Lumberton), Hunter West (South Lenoir) and Leah Williams (Midway).

“This year was not a particular year that we had size in the East in the senior class,” Poole offered. “A lot of our roster is smaller, but we’re hoping quicker. So we feel like we’re going to have to push the ball down the floor. We’re going to have be a little more up tempo and spread everybody out and see if we can get to the rim that way.”

Of those 10, Thompson (NC Central), Langley (NC Central), McMillian (Charlotte) and Laurent (UNC Greensboro) have signed at the Division I level. West will attend UNC as a Morhead-Cain scholar.

“We are going to be their last coaches in high school basketball — ever,” Poole said. “And so we do want it to be fun. So we’re going to try to keep it up tempo in practice and fun for them. But at the same time, I have a lot of a friends that have coached in the game. And they’ve kind of told me some things they’ve ran into. We want to the players to come prepared, in shape, ready to work. Because you’re going to have more fun if you’re playing well.”