Nov. 11, 2010

Rob Poole could see himself knocking down three-point jumpers amid the deafening noise of those 20,000-seat arenas in the Big Ten Conference.

He could see himself pulling up for 12-footers amid the history and excitement and ever-present ESPN cameras in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"I think about that every day," said Poole, a senior at Paul VI. "I always ask myself, 'Could I have gone higher?' "

Poole, a 6-foot-5 athlete who will be on the short list of the top basketball players in South Jersey this winter, isn't complaining about his college decision. He was thrilled to sign with Siena on Nov. 10.

But his angst is typical of scholarship athletes as they prepare to sign their scholarship papers. Is it the right school? The right coach? The right level?

There's no way to be certain. That's the tricky part for athletes who are talented enough to sit behind the big table at their high school and sign that national letter of intent.

Think about all the players who transfer after one season. Or those who languish on the bench. Or the select few who excel at mid-majors and question whether they could be doing the same thing at a higher level of competition.

Poole, like many others, sometimes wonders if he could fall into the latter category. His situation was further complicated by a coaching change at Siena after he committed to the school last January.

Former Siena coach Fran McCaffery left the program to become coach at Iowa last spring. Siena assistant coach Mitch Buonaguro was promoted to head coach.

"When Fran left, my first thought was that I was kind of relieved," Poole said. "I thought maybe I had decided too soon, and I thought I could go play at a higher level. Then I started to get lots of calls from lots of schools. "

Poole, who had a big spring and summer playing along with Cherry Hill East star Chris Santo for the Jersey Shore Warriors AAU team, received scholarship offers from Minnesota as well as fellow Big Ten program Iowa. Boston College and Clemson of the ACC were interested, as well as St. John's of the Big East.

"I could see myself playing for those schools," Poole said.

Ultimately, Poole decided that Siena was right for him. Buonaguro was deeply involved in his recruiting, and Poole felt a good connection with the new coach. He liked the school and the campus in Albany, N.Y. The program is a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference power, having made the NCAA tournament three years in a row.

"The more I thought about it, the more I thought that Siena was right for me," Poole said.

Now that he has signed, Poole will turn his full attention to preparing for his senior season. He's excited for a couple of reasons.

For one, the Eagles should be among the best teams in South Jersey. For another, he is determined to make amends for a frustrating junior season in which he played in just 12 games because of a hand injury suffered in a fight.

"Stupidest decision I ever made in my life," Poole said. "I blame myself for last year. I'm going to make up for it. "

Poole is a versatile player who averaged 16.8 points and 5.6 rebounds for Paul VI last season. He does everything from shooting from distance to rebounding to playing some point guard in a pinch.

"He's great with the younger kids, too," Paul VI coach Tony Devlin said. "He's like having another coach on the floor. "

Poole likely will never know if he could have been a top player at Minnesota or Iowa or Boston College or Clemson.

But he knows one thing for sure: The smart move is to focus on where he is, and where he's going, rather than where he might have been.

Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223 or panastasia@phillynews.com.