Samardo Samuels, 16, is far from a household name, but that's about to change – especially with a move from Our Savior New American (N.Y.) to St. Benedict's (N.J.).
The 6-foot-9, 235-pound Samuels (No. 2, Scout.com) arrived in the United States from Jamaica a little more than a year ago with the help of the Jamaica Basketball Development, Inc. – and didn't play all that much at Our Savior as a freshman.
Samuels was first spotted a couple years ago at the Star Search Camp in Jamaica, which is run by the Jamaica Basketball Development, Inc. – and is held each July in an effort to find the top players in the country and help them land college scholarships.
``There were bigger players," Stephen Johnston said about first seeing Samuels. "It wasn't that he was scoring. It was the way he moved. He was only 14 and there were older guys, but he looked like he had been over to the United States. His skill level was much higher than the other players."
Johnston and his colleagues, a group of Jamaica natives who played college basketball in the United States (Johnston played at the University of Bridgeport), helped Samuels get over to the U.S., where he lived with Johnston for the past year.
Samuels played behind James Tchana at Our Savior, so his playing time was limited – primarily because Tchana had already been in the program and was playing for a college scholarship.
Samuels has only played a couple years of basketball, so his upside is tremendous. ``My whole family played soccer and I started playing basketball about two years ago," Samuels said.
``He was hiding from the basketball coach at his school when he was younger," Johnston said. "He didn't want to play, but he was basically forced to play. He'd shrink in the hallways when he saw the basketball coach."
But now Samuels plays the game with a passion and aggression that is unmatched by most of his peers. He runs the floor extremely well for someone his size, is a big-time shot-blocker and can finish in the post with skill and power. Samuels still needs to work on becoming a better rebounder – and a better man-to-man defender, but that will likely come with repetition.
``I always like the challenge of going up against the best players," Samuels said. "That's when I can see where I stand."
So far, Samuels stands as one of the elite up-and-coming players in the nation – regardless of age. Johnston said that his recruiting hasn't really started to take shape yet because he's only a sophomore, but that many of the Big East schools, including St. John's, UConn and Rutgers, have already started to make it clear that he's their primary target for 2008. ``He wants to dominate," Johnston added. "There are a lot of guys his size out there, but he just plays so hard and wants to dominate every time out. He's just so powerful – he has the strength of a manchild. Some people have said he reminds them of a young Eddy Curry, but I think he looks a little bit like Elton Brand with more mobility."
Samuels has been in Jamaica for much of the past month, spending time with his family, and is hoping to put his name on the map down the road with his country's most well-known basketball player, Patrick Ewing.
``He's a great kid who comes from a strong family," Johnston said. "His parents are very humble. Samardo is wise beyond his years and he really wants to do well so he can help his country. He has a strong love for his country and his family is a big reason why. They've had the most influence on what kind of kid he is."
``He can be a star and I'm not just talking on the court," added Johnston. "He's got a great personality. He's affable, has a great smile and knows how to deal with people."