Programming note: Watch the Santa Cruz Warriors play the Texas Legends tonight on NBC Sports Bay Area Plus and streaming live on the MyTeams app at 6 p.m. PT.
STOCKTON -- Jordan Poole found himself in unfamiliar territory Saturday night.
Standing midcourt at Stockton Arena, he was far away from sterling Chase Center amenities. Away from his star-studded Golden State Warriors teammates, who had just lost to the Dallas Mavericks back in the Bay. And away from the cache that comes with being an NBA player.
Poole’s confines at that moment were the result of his rookie season-long struggles. The guard shot just 25.4 percent from the field in his first 29 games with Golden State, and had made just four of 19 shots in his last five outings. To help remedy the misses, the Warriors created a plan to send Poole to their G League affiliate earlier this month.
Poor play, coinciding with the rise of two-way guards Ky Bowman and Damion Lee, resulted in Poole’s demotion Saturday. Nonetheless, the ever-so-confident 20-year-old guard remained positive.
"It's fun, bro," Poole told NBC Sports Bay Area after his first G League game. "Just having the opportunity to play basketball in general, it's just exciting.”
Poole's current world pales in comparison to the one he had to leave. In the place of five-star hotels are mid-priced commuter lodging centers. While the Warriors use a Delta-sponsored chartered jet with seats that recline to a bed-like setting, the Santa Cruz Warriors opt for commercial jets. Earlier this month, the G League team played a game in Uniondale, N.Y., before boarding an early morning flight hours later, traveling 3,000 miles across the country in time for a home game in Santa Cruz one day later.
"Nothing against commercial, but we're all 6-7, 6-8, 6-9, plus. So, when we get in these small seats, it’s kind of hard," Santa Cruz forward Juan Toscano-Anderson said. "I have tight hips and hamstrings already, so when I'm getting on these planes for five, six hours, it's affecting me. It's taking me a day or two to really loosen up my body again."
Underscoring the harsher conditions is the pregame visual surrounding Poole. As the rookie reflects, the arena houses an ecosystem of people working to get out of their current circumstances.
On one end, Toscano-Anderson -- who had a brief stint on Golden State's preseason roster -- is working toward another shot at an NBA roster. On the other, Jeremy Pargo -- a 33-year-old point guard with three brief NBA stints from 2011 to 2013 -- is pushing for one last opportunity in the league after a successful career overseas.
Along the outer reaches of the court, Santa Cruz general manager Ryan Atkinson, a few years removed from the University of San Francisco's Sports Management program, is among the many scouts, interns and TV announcers hoping to use the G League as a launch point into a competitive league position.
"Everybody's trying to get up top, and there's so many limited spaces, job openings and roster spots," Toscano-Anderson said. "It's not a secret -- everybody knows they're trying to get up top. I think everybody tries to put their hard hat on every day and not necessarily outdo the next person but tries to have that edge and show that, ‘Hey, I'm working harder than the next person.’ “
The length of Poole's development league stint is uncertain. While Warriors coach Steve Kerr called the rookie's demotion "indefinite" Friday, that declaration is based on two factors. First, Bowman and Lee have 11 and 12 days, respectively, remaining on their 45-day two-way contract limit, giving Poole until early next month on a G League roster. Second, the rookie must show progress in his game.
Though Poole gained 15 pounds of muscle last summer, he’s often pushed off his spots offensively, affecting his shot. That lack of strength also negatively impacts his defense. Still, at the moment, he's guaranteed to play with Santa Cruz for at least Sunday night’s home game against the Texas Legends.
Poole isn't concerned about any timetable to return to the NBA.
"Anything can happen," he said. "I could be up there tomorrow, I could be there next week, I can be up there in three weeks. But I don't really think about it. I take it day by day."
Above all, Poole hopes to finally find his shot. A 39 percent 3-point shooter in college at Michigan, he's made just 24.2 percent of his attempts as a pro. In his previous NBA outing, he missed both of his field-goal attempts and played just six minutes Monday in a win over the Timberwolves.
For his part, Poole believes his play isn't a result of lack of practice.
"I know what I do outside of the game," he said. "I know I work night in, night out, pregame, before. I get my work in, and I make shots all the time. It'll be days where I work out and I don't miss. But when you go into a game and the opportunity doesn't present itself, you can't really control that."
Poole's statement gives a glimpse of his confidence. Throughout the season, any question about his shooting was met with a simple statement: "That quality got me here. Why change?” His defiance is built on a constant approach.
"I give positive energy,” Poole said. “I'm always smiling, having fun, no matter what the situation is, whatever it is, the outlook, I'm going to make the best of the situation. And through all, thick and thin, pain is only temporary. Everybody goes through this, so I'm going to continue to be myself more than anything."
On Saturday, he gave a glimpse of the potential that led the Warriors to use a first-round draft pick on him. Five minutes into the first quarter, he took his defender off the dribble for an easy layup, plus a foul. Thirty seconds later, he used a eurostep to make space for another layup.
By the end of the night, Poole had accumulated 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in 37 minutes, helping Santa Cruz overcome a 20-point deficit to win its sixth consecutive game.
#SeaDubs come back with a vengeance against @stocktonkings, going on a 6 game winning streak 🔥— Santa Cruz Warriors (@GLeagueWarriors) December 29, 2019
Poole - 23PTS | 8REB | 7AST@drewroc5 - 25PTS@juanonjuan10 - 23PTS | 11REB@imjustpargo - 22PTS | 6AST
Let’s give our team a warm welcome tomorrow night!
🎟 https://t.co/m4Jpk8ARkn pic.twitter.com/lLFGYFxe4f
"Going out there and being able to come back from 20, to score 25 and contribute to a win, that feels amazing," Poole said. "I feel like I was able to show what I am capable of. It’s just playing basketball, bro. To put it simply, it's fun playing out there.
“Of course, you want to be up there and you want to be on the highest stage with the people I've been playing with," Poole added. "But it's not holding anything back. These guys are working to do the same thing I am, and it’s basketball."
By the end of the night, with a Santa Cruz win in tow, Poole found solace in his new, albeit temporary, place of employment.
"It's been cool, it's been great," he said. "Working as hard as I can, finding the ins and outs of the ropes. I could be in school right now, I could be at home, but I'm playing in the NBA. So, it's just good to play basketball."