A Happy Ending: Jamar Samuels Leaves Bramlage with a Bang

4 Mar

Photo by Orlin Wagner/AP

Jamar Samuels could not sleep. The next day marked the end of an era, his last game ever at Bramlage Coliseum. He felt nervous, probably more so than he had been in his entire life.

As he waited for tipoff, he learned that his family’s plane had been delayed, so he would go through senior introductions without his mother by his side. Coach Frank Martin’s wife, Anya, walked out with him instead, and while the absence of his mom did not rattle Samuels, it was a deep-sad-sigh-inducing sort of moment.

Nevertheless, pregame proved to be emotional.

“I thought I was going to cry – one tear, it was like right there but it went back up,” Samuels said, indicating the inside corner of his eye. “I can’t say anything more about the fans here. I really do appreciate everyone here that stuck with me through it all.”

He made one field goal in the first half, and when Jordan Henriquez got bashed in the mouth after a dunk and had to go to the bench, Samuels stepped up and made both free throws in his place.

Kansas State introduced Samuels’ family at halftime to a rousing ovation from the crowd, and once the game resumed Jamar promptly scored to start the Wildcats on a 14-0 run. He scored 13 points of his 17 points in that half to go along with 12 rebounds in the game.

The senior had some terrific, aggressive plays throughout the second half. On one, he pump-faked at the top of the lane to get the defender out of the way and then drove to the rim for the score. On another play, he feigned a shot just convincingly enough to create some space before pulling up for the mid-range jumper.

What most fans remember about Samuels’ impassioned performance is his last basket, the final basket of the game. With the shot clock winding down, he dribbled back along the baseline, elevated against his defender and released the ball at the last possible moment. The ball went in, the referees called a foul, and Samuels made the free throw to give Kansas State a 77-54 lead with two and a half minutes to play.

“I watch a lot of NBA, and that’s what they do a lot, so I just jumped into him, and the ball went in,” Samuels said with a laugh, eliciting a huge smile from fellow senior Victor Ojeleye, who sat next to him in the postgame press conference.

After that stellar play, Samuels headed for the bench for the last time, soaking in the cheers from fans and hugs from teammates in what could be the best regular season finale imaginable for any senior.

For him and those close to him, though, his maturation as a person is just as impressive as anything he has done on the basketball court.

“You have different relationships with every player you coach, and you have different experiences with them, and you take different paths with them,” Martin said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been as proud of somebody for the maturity and growth that he has displayed over the last year.”

Samuels only doubted his ability to handle the Kansas State basketball program once, after his first workout with strength and conditioning coach Scott Greenawalt. Hardly able to move for a couple days afterward, as he recalls, he did not know if he was cut out for this. One-year sensation Michael Beasley, now in the NBA, told him it would get a little easier, and Samuels stuck it out.

After being named Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year as a sophomore, Samuels had a somewhat disappointing junior season.

Coming into his senior year, Samuels knew he had to get serious, especially after Martin reminded him that Samuels would already be done with basketball had he not listened to the coach and redshirted his freshman year. That conversation struck a chord and induced a new sense of urgency in Samuels, who proceeded to gain 30 pounds in the summer after struggling to put on weight in the past.

Again, though, more than what he does on the court, it is the personal aspect of Samuels that has touched his teammates and endeared him to so many people.

“Jamar is a very unique person in terms of how he reaches other people,” said Ojeleye, who rooms with Samuels on the road. “It might take awhile for people to kind of figure him out … He’s a very sharp guy. You’ve got to really see him off the court to see how knowledgeable and how caring he is, and the things that I’ve seen him mature and grow in over the past four years, just being with him, has really been amazing. He’s become such a great closer for us in games and also just influenced a lot of guys in the locker room. People look up to him. People ask him for advice. They really want to know what makes him tick, and he’s very honest. He’s carried himself very well. I’m very proud of him.”

All smiles as he sat in his last postgame press conference in a dark little room off the tunnel of Bramlage, Samuels seemed pleased with his progress. While he does not know what will happen next, he is content with what he has done.

“At the end of the day, I think I battled, and I left everything out here on the court,” Samuels said. “I can say Kansas State shaped me into a man. I’m finally a man. I can look in the mirror and say, ‘Well, you’re a grown man.’ I’m willing to take what’s ahead in life.”

 

 

 

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