Samuels Proving He Belongs - Samardo Samuels couldn't believe that his name didn't get called. Just two years removed from being rated the second best player in a high school class that included lottery picks such as Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, DeMar DeRozan, and Greg Monroe, Samuels found himself on the outside looking in on the night of the 2010 NBA Draft.
Throughout the draft process, the Jamaica native had worked out for plenty of teams and received excellent feedback. Fellow prospects who worked out with Samuels were impressed and felt like he was one of the most underrated players in the class.
"It's weird, man. I dominated all of my workouts so I was satisfied with myself. I felt like I had proven that I was good enough. When it didn't happen for me, I was disappointed but not too disappointed because I know that I'm good enough and it was just stuff that was out of my control. It's a long journey and now I just have to go the extra mile. It was nothing. I was disappointed but I believed in myself and my family believed in me so I just kept pushing," Samuels told HOOPSWORLD.
Despite the fact that he went undrafted, the twenty-one year old never questioned his decision to leave Louisville after his sophomore season.
"A lot of people were saying that if I was going to leave school, I should have just left after my freshman year. But after my freshman year, I didn't think I was ready at all. Leaving after my sophomore year, I did what I had to do at the university. In my freshman year, with the team we had, we could have won a championship but everything didn't come together and it didn't happen. So in my second year, I had a little bit more to prove and I felt like I had gotten better so that's when I made to decision to leave Louisville. I was ready," he said.
Because he wasn't drafted, Samuels was able to choose his next move. The power forward continued working hard, accepted a Summer League invite from the Chicago Bulls, and then made the most of the opportunity. He impressed the coaching staff in practice and then averaged 16.3 points and 8.3 rebounds after being moved into the starting lineup. Throughout the week and a half in Las Vegas, he turned heads and was immediately receiving interest from the teams that had just passed on him several weeks before.
"It was a great for me," said Samuels. "Right after the draft, I was really disappointed knowing that I did well in my workouts and stuff like that and then having it not work out for me on draft night. But when I had the opportunity to play with the Chicago Bulls in Summer League, I was really excited. I was finally getting my opportunity to prove that I belonged in the league and that I'm good enough to play at this level."
The Cleveland Cavaliers were sold on the power forward and signed him to a multi-year deal shortly after. Although he has made it to the league, Samuels still feels like he has a lot to prove. Many critics have questioned his decision to leave Louisville and whether or not he can be successful. Samuels is motivated by these doubters and is working hard to prove them wrong.
"Oh man, that has been a tremendous motivation," said Samuels. "I know what I can do and I'm confident. It is what it is. I'm not listening to any of the critics and I must be doing something right if I have critics, you know what I mean? It has definitely made me stronger though and wanting to prove them wrong has pushed me. Every day, I get up knowing that I have something to prove. When I step in the gym, I know I have to work and that it will all be worth it. It has definitely helped me and it was really a wakeup call because I didn't realize I had so many haters. It's tough for me, being from another country, but I've been here long enough to know how this works. I'm definitely good enough to be in the NBA and that's why I am in the NBA."
Now that he has made it to the league, Samuels is looking forward to focusing on basketball again. He has been participating in offseason workouts with the Cavaliers and is optimistic heading into his rookie season.
"I'm blessed to be on the Cavs because the coaching staff, since day one, has just been so helpful and I've learned so much every single day. The sky is really the limit and I've been getting a lot better. I'm really excited. I'm a believer and I think we have a great team. I think we have a chance to develop some good chemistry. We have a great group of guys and I'm just excited. We have a good, young coach that's just full of energy and that's what you need. We have every piece to be successful and if guys come and get locked in, we can do pretty well this year," said Samuels.
One player in particular that has helped Samuels start the transition from college to the pros is fellow big man J.J. Hickson. "J.J. is my boy! Me and J.J. spend a lot of time together off the court and it's good. He has more experience than me so just watching how he works and how he carries himself off of the court, I'm seeing that I can learn from him and I want to go into every day trying to get better also. We're battling every day. I'm learning from him, Antawn is here too, and it's just exciting knowing that there's a chance that me and him can grow and become a duo down the road," said Samuels.
Down the road may be the key phrase in that sentence. Samuels isn't sure what his role will be next season but understands that doing the dirty work will likely result in more minutes.
"Right now, I'm not really worried about my role. With Coach Byron, the biggest thing he talks about is energy. Having that energy all of the time and then letting everything else take care of itself. I just want to bring that energy. You can't teach hard work and if you work hard and play hard, you stay on the court," he said.
Heading into the season, Samuels is expecting big things from the Cavaliers. He believes that the group has been overlooked since the departure of LeBron James and still thinks the team is capable of making the playoffs.
"I think our team is going to be great," Samuels said confidently. "I think our practices are going to be good; I'm excited to see how that goes since they are coming up. I'm definitely going to play like I want to make the playoffs. I want to have a good outing in my rookie year after all of the things I've had to go through. I know a lot of the guys are thinking the same way. A lot of guys on this team are feeling disrespected. LeBron left and everyone just lost all hope. There are still a lot of good players on this team. LeBron was a great player but this is still the NBA. Other guys on the team have a chip on their shoulder and it's going to be a good season. It's going to be fun being a part of it."
Although he followed an unconventional path to the league, Samardo Samuels is determined to prove that he belongs. He is working hard to make the most of this opportunity in Cleveland and it may just be a matter of time before he finds himself dominating once again.
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