LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Samardo Samuels doesn’t have O.J. Mayo’s entourage, Kevin Durant’s boyish face, Greg Oden’s beard or Michael Beasley’s SpongeBob Squarepants fetish.
What the Louisville freshman does have, though, is Rick Pitino. And in a freshman class without megawatt star power of the last couple years, the Cardinals coach admits his hulking 6-foot-8 newcomer might be the closest thing to a sure thing.
Ask Pitino if he thinks Samuels has the potential to be a one-and-done guy who bolts for the NBA, and the only coach to lead three different schools to a Final Four isn’t so sure.
“I don’t believe so,” he said. “I think he’s going to need at least two years.”
That might be wishful thinking.
During Louisville’s annual preseason Red-White scrimmage, Pitino intentionally put Samuels on the more inexperienced squad. Playing against a White team featuring established star Earl Clark and returning starters Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith, Samuels dominated, scoring 36 points and grabbing 16 rebounds.
Sure, it wasn’t Big East play. But Samuels affirmed why Louisville is a trendy pick to make the Final Four for the second time in five seasons.
“He’s different than anybody I’ve coached. You can’t really make a comparison,” Pitino said. “I haven’t had very many freshmen, 6-8, 255 with a long wingspan that are as strong as him. He’s an extremely powerful player.”
Samuels is roughly the same size as former Kentucky star and longtime NBA fixture Antoine Walker, who helped Pitino win a national title in 1996.
“Antoine was more of a point forward,” he said. “Samardo is more of a killer forward.”
Samuels didn’t pick up the game until he was 13 and outgrew the local soccer team in his hometown of Trelawny, Jamaica.
He came to the U.S. five years ago and quickly developed into a star at St. Benedict Prep in Newark, N.J., where he averaged 24.2 points and 10.7 rebounds last season. He started thinking about the NBA during his junior year.
“I thought I was the greatest player in the world,” he said.
But Samuels learned a lesson in humility playing in pickup games against NBA vets Al Harrington, ex-Arizona Wildcat Richard Jefferson and Ryan Gomes.
“Sometimes, we’d be playing and Al would, in the middle of a play, stop and say ‘Look, this is how you defend me,’ ” Samuels said.
Tyreke Evans, guard, Memphis: A scorer with great shooting range.
Jrue Holiday, guard, UCLA: Nice feel for the game. Quick. Smooth.
Scotty Hopson, forward, Tennessee: Smart player who can rebound and get to the basket.
B.J. Mullens, center, Ohio State: Nice big man who could get the starting spot right away.
Greg Monroe, forward, Georgetown: Rebounder who could be the best freshman if he plays hard.
DeMar DeRozan, forward, USC: Will start right away. Has tremendous athletic ability.
Samardo Samuels, forward, Louisville: Nice scorer and very good rebounder.
By Steve Rivera, The Associated Press