Samuels and the Wildcats enter NCAA Tournament play at the East Regional in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Thursday at 11:40 (central time) against 25-8 Southern Mississippi.
It’s true that Jamar Samuels once thought about leaving Kansas State’s basketball family, but as he says, “It would have been too far to crawl.”
Arriving on campus at mid-basketball year on Dec. 26, 2007, the Washington D.C., native and product of North Carolina’s The Patterson School, the spindly 6-foot-7 talent first said his hellos to coach Frank Martin, but his next introduction was to strength coach Scott Greenawalt.
“I was no more than a buck-85 and he told me to drop down and do pushups, so I did a quick 10, but he said I wasn’t doing them right, and then showed me how,” reflected Samuels. “Doing it his way I did about one-and-a-half. I didn’t even touch the weights, but he had me do some other things.”
Retreating to his dorm that night, Samuels said, “My body was killing me. I stayed in bed for two days. I had to literally crawl to the bathroom I was so sore. I remember calling my mom and saying, ‘I don’t think this is going to work out.’
“Dom (Dominique Sutton, his roommate) would ask me if I was OK, and I’d say, ‘I don’t know.’,” Samuels said. “I had heard that Michael Beasley threw-up after workouts, so I knew it was going to be tough, but my goodness.
“The next time Scott saw me he made fun of me,” said Samuels. “He said I was walking like Fred Sampson.”
It’s now 40-plus pounds and four-plus years later with Samuels having played in 131 Wildcat game, which is second only to Jacob Pullen’s 135. He’s the first player in KSU history to record at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 100 assists, 100 steals and 50 blocked shots. His 1,258 points rank 12th in KSU history, and he’s in the Top 10 in all-time free throws, rebounds, steals and blocks.
More than those numbers, Samuels, an honorable mention All-Big 12 honoree, says, “I came in here as a 17-year-old kid with no facial hair and I’m leaving as a grown man, who is making mature decisions. At the end of the day, I hope I’m remembered as a guy who battled and left it all on the court. K-State shaped me into a man who is ready to take on what’s ahead of him in life.”
When Samuels arrived on campus the question was whether to join Michael Beasley and Bill Walker on the court, or sit out the second semester.
Did he want to play? “I did, I did,” he answered.
Was he ready to play? “No, not at all.”
Chuckling, Samuels said, “I went with the team to Xavier (Dec. 31) and remember thinking, ‘These are big boys … big boys.’ I was this 17-year-old cat, who was definitely not ready for this competition.”
Samuels’ career started in 2008-09 and he has now been a part of 94 victories and will soon suit up for his third straight NCAA Tournament.
He averaged 8.3 points with 4.7 rebounds as a freshman; 11.0 points and 4.9 rebounds as a sophomore when he won the Big 12’s “Sixth-Man Award”; and, 8.5 points and 5.4 rebounds last year when he started 21 of the 33 games.
This year he’s averaging 10.3 points and 6.6 rebounds, which has included 16 twin-figure scoring games, seven games of at least 10 rebounds and six double-doubles.
“Jamar’s game has grown from where he wasn’t even an offensive option to where we’re running plays to him, or through him,” said associate head coach Brad Underwood. “The first few years he was just a junkyard dog with his points coming on put backs, to now where he’s part of the offense to the degree of being a 3-point threat.”
Underwood admitted that the inconsistencies of Samuels game were sometimes frustrating, “… but his game has matured and he’s grown up.”
While the results of a day in Greenawalt’s gym were pure torture, it didn’t match a phone call to his mother, Ernestine, at the beginning of this year. He had to tell the person he loved most that he was being suspended for the first three games as a result of immature decisions made at the end of the previous school year.
“That was the worst moment in my life. It wasn’t pleasant … very tough,” said Samuels. “She was embarrassed. That wasn’t the kid she had raised.”
Ernestine, along with a grandmother and an aunt, raised Samuels in a single-parent home.
“I know my dad and I have his name … Samuels, and my middle name is his first name … Lascells, but I haven’t spoken to him in nearly three years,” said Samuels.
Of his mother, Samuels says she doesn’t have “that look” of coach Frank Martin, but says, “She can talk way better. She has a way of words that are stronger than Frank’s.”
While Martin can be tough with looks and language, Samuels said it never came close to breaking him.
But he admits, “The first time I caught that stare I just thought, ‘What is he thinking? What’s wrong with this guy?’ You would look away and look back 10 seconds later and he was still giving that stare ... that look.”
Laughing, he added, “The stare is bad, but when his eye starts twitching, that’s when you really know you’re in trouble.”
Hoping to coach one day, Samuels, who will have a social science major and leadership minor, says, “I’m not going to yell as much. I hope I give kids the benefit of the doubt, but I may try to give them a little stare.”