Samuels focused on rebounding

Samardo Samuels has been as good as advertised. The McDonald's All-American is off to a sensational start for the University of Louisville men's basketball team.

The 6-foot-8 freshman center from Trelawny, Jamaica leads the ninth-ranked Cardinals (5-1) in scoring (16.3 points per game) through the first six games of the season. He is also shooting 65.5 percent from the field (36 for 55) and 74.3 percent from the free throw line (26 of 35) while ranking third on the team in rebounding (5.2 per game) and minutes (25.5 per game).

UofL coach Rick Pitino called Samuels "as good a freshman as I've coached since (Jamal) Mashburn," after Sunday's 81-54 shellacking of South Alabama in the championship game of the Billy Minardi Classic on Nov. 23.

And Samuels has certainly lived up to that comparison to the former University of Kentucky star forward early on. In the season-opener against Morehead State he scored 18 points on 8 of 12 shooting in only 23 minutes. Then against South Alabama he scored 24 points on 9 of 10 shooting in only 27 minutes of action.

The only thing he hasn't done extremely well is rebound (he has five in both games), something Pitino mentioned in both of his post-game press conferences in the Minardi Classic.

"He's one of the best freshmen I've ever coached," Pitino said then. "He needs to get better rebounding and playing defense, but I'm trying to help him get to where he wants to go next."

Then in the Cardinals' upset loss to Western Kentucky on Nov. 30 Samuels scored just 11 points on 3 of 7 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds in UofL's 68-54 loss and also drew the ire of his coach ("I chased him into the showers," Pitino said) because he complained about not getting the basketball enough.

Samuels bounced back in the Marques Maybin Classic. He scored 11 points in 17 minutes against Indiana State, tallied a team-high 19 points in UofL's win over Ohio and then scored a team-high 15 points in the Cards' victory over Lamar on Monday.

Pitino addressed Samuels' developing maturity after the Ohio game.

"This is a tough culture you're dealing with when you're dealing with young people (today)," he said. "They've got to told when they're wrong, they've got to be told when they're right. He's a good kid. If you ever witness, and I'm not talking about my basketball team, what goes on with the younger generation today in terms of why they're not as good as they are because of all the patronizing that goes on. You realize why they don't realize their potential. When I hear the word 'touches' I want to go through the wall and kill somebody, that's how upset I get when I hear that word. You've got to grow out of that.

"And what happens is, in his defense, like any other person, Earl Clark and T-Will lived that life as freshman and high school kids too, and then they grow out of it. They understand what it's all about. It just takes time and maturity to grow out of that. The interesting thing about it, when they really reach their potential 'touches' have nothing to do with them making money."

Q: Coach has been talking about your rebounding a lot so far early this season, what about it?

A: "I just need to block out, get more rebounds, that's what I'm concentrating on right now. I know I'm a good rebounder I just need to come up and battle more."

Q: Do you think Coach is using some psychology with you on your rebounding?

A: "Coach P, he's pretty good with those mind games. His way of motivating you is a little different than other coaches, but it gets the job done."

Q: How did you get ready for this season?

A: "I prepared in the offseason, and I think it's just showing (now). I came down here early and worked out in the gym and before I left New York I was doing two now games are the easy part."

Q: What's been the easiest thing about college basketball so far?

A: "The easiest part is playing with these guys, they make everything so easy for me."

Q: What's been the hardest thing about college basketball so far?

A: "Right now the hardest thing for me is working on my rebounding and getting the double-double that I want. I've kind of been coming on slowly, but I know that will come."

Q: What about the Western Kentucky game?

A: "I was just being immature."

Q: Why did you choose Louisville?

A: "The fan base, the atmosphere is great. I just wanted to be part of it."

Q: Is it what you expected?

A: "Yeah so far, it's been great. It's the best, the atmosphere is great. I used to watch Duke and North Carolina on TV, but then I came to an exhibition game on my visit and it was pretty good then. Then (assistant coach) Stevie Mas(iello) told me the games were even better, I didn't believe him at first but he was right on point."

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