Las Vegas, Nev., and Murray, are separated by seven states and 1, 725 miles and are on opposite sides of the country. The differences between the two cities are vast, but senior guard Donte Poole, a Las Vegas native, sees it as he does most everything in life: as an opportunity to learn.
“Vegas is always known for the lights and the strip and of course Murray doesn’t have any of that; they rarely have street lights,” Poole said. “I was born and raised in the city and that’s what I’m used to but you can learn from a small town just as much as you can learn from a big city.”
The lights aren’t the only things that differ between the two locations.
“Everything about Murray and Las Vegas are opposite, everything closes at midnight in Murray, everything starts at midnight in Vegas,” he said. “It’s an adjustment but you have to be positive about things – you don’t get in trouble as much because there are less opportunities to get in trouble or get caught up in things you don’t have any business getting caught up in.”
Poole, who earned the title of Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Most Valuable Player, began playing basketball early in life under the example of his parents, Danny and Regina Poole, who both played basketball and won state championships at their respective high schools.
After graduating from Mojave High School in 2007, Poole attended Sound Doctrine Christian Academy in Lagrange, Ga., for a year, playing basketball for the Bulldogs and leading the team in scoring with 25 points per game before coming to Murray State.
“I visited Murray and it was the opposite of Vegas, but you always want to look at the positive, the upside,” Poole said. “So you just think about the community, you think about the love, the support that everyone has, you think about the tradition, the banners and you think about how you want to impact that in a positive way. That all grabbed me in and I wanted to be a part of it.”
However, Murray State wasn’t Poole’s only option. He was recruited by Colorado State, who the Racers’ will face as their first opponent in the NCAA Tournament today, before choosing to wear the Murray State blue and gold.
“They recruited me out of high school,” Poole said. “I was down there and visited the facilities, I actually stayed there for a summer. It’s a great place, a nice place and very similar to Murray. We’re just ready to play them now.”
After being interviewed for a TV show Sunday night, Murray State Head Coach Steve Prohm was on his way out of the building when he caught the senior’s eye.
“I was leaving and I looked at Donte and laughed and I said, ‘It’s ironic, isn’t it?’ and we laughed,” Prohm said. “You couldn’t be happier for a guy like Donte Poole to have a season he’s having. I don’t know much about the kids (Colorado State Head) Coach (Tim) Miller has in the program there, but if he’s recruiting guys like Donte Poole then he’s doing things the right way and he’s recruiting good kids.”
Prohm’s praise for Poole, who averages 14.2 points per game, didn’t end there.
“Donte Poole represents our program the right way,” Prohm said. “He has great character, great toughness, great leadership, he’s accountable, he’s going to graduate and he has worked his way through this program. He has played behind very good guards for two or three years and he’s had his opportunity to step up this season and he has embraced it, he’s taken advantage of it and he hasn’t looked back. Then to be named Conference Tournament MVP was really a compliment to him.”
Poole credits his mom and dad with shaping him into the man he is today, but said his sister, 10 years his senior, is also partially responsible for his growth.
“She never pushed me, my dad always had that role of pushing and motivating me – and my mom – but I used to watch everything my sister did,” Poole said. “We used to fight and argue but she has a drive about her that is motivating. The things she does, whether it’s setting up travel things or whether it’s her work ethic, everything she does she gives 110 percent, even if she knows she can’t do it she always tries to find a way.”
After growing up, Poole now appreciates and treasures his relationship with his sister and is constantly talking to her and learning from her example.
“Sometimes it’s not always about pushing someone,” Poole said. “Sometimes it’s just by doing the right thing that can motivate someone in the greatest way.”
After beginning his first year at Murray State as a redshirt, Poole began playing that season after teammate Jewuan Long had a knee injury only to be forced to sit out the last month and a half of the season after breaking his collarbone in a game against Tennessee State. Since then, Poole has developed and matured on and off the court.
“I would probably say (I’m most proud of) my growth over the last three years from my freshman year to my senior year,” Poole said. “Going from doubting yourself, not knowing if you could play on this level and doubting everything about yourself. I got hurt for the first time in my career and was out for the season so there was a lot of doubt, wanting to transfer and just wasn’t sure about anything to know, you just feel so much more confident about yourself and about doing things so it’s just the growth from then to now (that’s led to) the person that I’ve become.”
His coach is proud of him, too.
“I can’t say enough about his character, about his toughness and his leadership,” Prohm said during senior night Feb. 18 after the 65-51 win over Saint Mary’s. “I get emails from people in the community, but I get emails so many times about Donte Poole about how he treats a 6-year-old kid; these guys have won a lot of games but still give back to the community in a tremendous way.”
The senior described himself as “genuinely-goofy” and is known for his sense of humor and lighthearted personality.
“I’m a lot of things but I’m a genuine person,” Poole said. “I like to have fun I like to see other people have fun and see other people happy so that’s where the goofy side comes in.”
Poole, an advertising major, wanted to be a lot of things growing up including a firefighter, doctor and the next Michael Jordan, but after graduating he won’t be pursuing a career in marine biology or anything with water, fishs or sharks.
“It’s kind of funny, we go fishing and I’ll always have someone else take (the fish) off for me,” he said. “I don’t know what it is but every time I catch it I’ll be happy but then I’ll turn it to them and tell them to take it off, it’s funny.”
However, after graduating in May, Poole would like to keep playing basketball or do something in advertising or communications, his minor.
“I still want to play so hopefully I can sign and go overseas but if not then try to get something in the advertising or something with a local talk show or be a sports announcer,” Poole said. “With advertising you can just do so much whether it’s sports advertising or a franchise or a team or anything like that, it’s just so broad.”
With the Racers, picked to finish third in the OVC, setting new records and earning national recognition all season as well as Poole starting every game and setting new personal records, the senior comes up short in trying to articulate what this season has meant to him.
“This year, words can’t even explain it,” he said. “Going from Coach Kennedy resigning, players leaving, assistant coaches leaving to Coach Prohm and five freshman coming in and with so many different things happening you just never know how something is going to end. You always hope for the best but people never know how something is going to turn out.
“Having a year like this, I don’t want to say we shut everybody up but I think we just proved a lot of people wrong. We came out and we were focused, we were hungry, we were motivated. We’re just a tough group of guys that want to get the job done every night. I just think it’s a great feeling.”