Still, despite having 131 games under his belt, Samuels has a chance to let that 1.5 percent (and perhaps, hopefully, more) write how his playing days will be remembered. That’s both the blessing and curse of a career that, for the most part, has been marked by a constant battle between potential and production.
Last Thursday, Samuels acknowledged his recognition of how those who have watched his career unfold perceive his body of work on the floor. And, he hoped they have seen the complete piece.
“I want people to remember the hard work I have put in,” Samuels said. “I know I have not had a consistent four years here, but I want everyone to remember me as the guy that worked hard and left everything on the floor.”
That’s the big picture. The immediate goal, however, is draped with a much more urgent message from the senior to his K-State teammates – on the that he has preached for several weeks and did so again prior to Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State.
“I told a few guys at Texas A&M that I feel like the old guy in the hour glass, and time is ticking,” Samuels said on Thursday. “I am just trying to get this team as far as I can.”
The majority of his past six games say Samuels’ words are truth. His words have been his actions. Four times in his past six games, Samuels has earned a double-double, giving him eight this season. In his first three years, he had five.
Even in the past month, his tone has changed even more. He speaks now with an edged, mature finality, the kind that comes only when a young guy grows up. His play has matched his verbal tone; moves are made with a higher sense of purpose. Plays have been finished with a sense he understands, now, that the only thing that will help keep his last year going are getting more made baskets than the other team. So, his defense has improved also. The silly fouls that were synonymous with Samuels have waned. He played an entire game against the Cowboys without being whistled once.
He has become more than just a key piece to his team. His overall game has become superb.
To cap off the last regular season of his career, Samuels did what he could to make it memorable – racking up another double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds against Oklahoma State; becoming just the sixth Wildcat to break the 700-rebound plateau (708); and pushing K-State to 12-1 all-time in his double-double performances.
The answer seems obvious, but Samuels took the understated route when asked whether his last home game went the way we had hoped.
“I hope so,” Samuels said. “I wanted to try to get a career-high on rebounds but Brad [Underwood] told me it was too late.”
What isn’t too late is Samuels’ opportunity. He has the opportunity to continue this wild, fantastic streak. He can continue to channel his wildcard athletic ability into monster rebounding performances. He can continue to focus and knock down outside jumpers, forcing defenses to spread out and open lanes for Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodriguez to drive. He can do all of these things, and if he does, it leads straight to the money question: How far can the Wildcats go?
K-State is 21-9, and, depending on how several conference tournaments shake out, the ‘Cats likely project anywhere from a No. 6-8 seed in the NCAA Tournament bracket. Then, as it always does, it comes down to matchups, and, maybe even more importantly from the Wildcats’ perspective, whether the good KSU team or below average KSU shows up. And yes, a lot of that has to do with which Jamar Samuels shows.
K-State is easily good enough to take down a No. 2 seed. For example, some current projections have the No. 2 seeds as Missouri, Duke, Ohio State and Michigan State. Do any of those seem unbeatable? Easy, no. But, sure loss? No. In fact, while KSU would like to avoid being a No. 8 with the potential of playing a No. 1 in the third round, it’s a sure bet that no No. 1 seed wants to see the Wildcats, either.
However, all of that falls back to the question that has attached itself to this year’s KSU: Will the good team show up? Having won four of its last five and six of its last nine, K-State is inspiring a little confidence that it is playing some of its best basketball of the year.
Samuels’ play has been just as inspiring. Just have to keep it going.