The Cardinals leading scorer and rebounder last year isn't projected as a first round NBA pick and could wind up playing overseas. Pitino indicated that he wasn't surprised by Samuels' decision to forgo his final two years of eligibility at UofL, and said he supported his decision because of family considerations.
"This is not a young man from the projects of New York, Chicago or L.A.," Pitino said. "This is a young man who is doing it for his family to try and better his family. Whether he's making the right or wrong decision is irrelevant. He's doing this for the right reasons to help his family. That's why I support his decision."
Last month, Samuels by-passed UofL to announce his intentions to enter the NBA Draft, instead issuing a press release through the Jamaica Basketball Association. Shortly after that release, Pitino said he spoke with Samuels' parents about the situation and realized he'd better start making plans for life without his 6-foot-9 center.
"After we got that press release out of Jamaica a few weeks ago I did get a phone call from Samardo's parents and talked to them in detail," Pitino said. "At that point I started making plans that he was not coming back. The one thing I don't do is stand in the way of the wishes of parents."
Now, Samuels faces an uphill battle to secure a spot in next months NBA Draft. He's projected as a fringe second round pick, but only players picked in the first round receive guaranteed contracts.
"He's got a heck of a challenge in front of him but we wish him nothing but the best luck," Pitino said. "We'll move forward."
Samuels departure opened the door for Elisha Justice to receive a scholarship next season. Kentucky's 2010 Mr. Basketball led Shelby Valley to the state championship this season and was expected to walk-on at UofL next season.
"He's had a fairy-tale type journey," Pitino said. "He epitomizes what loyalty is all about. He was offered a walk-on position from us and received numerous scholarship offers but he didn't take them, which speaks volumes about his loyalty. He is as dedicated a young man as I've seen since Billy Donovan. I haven't seen someone with his work ethic in a long time."
Samuels' void also clears the way for junior Terrence Jennings at center.
Jennings saw limited minutes behind Samuels last season. Though he averaged just 13 minutes per game, Pitino has high hopes for Jennings next season.
"T.J does have enormous potential but he's got to play the way I expect him to play," said Pitino. "I told him he's got to try to play like Amari Stoudamire. He has to do the things he does best – outrun people, block shots, rebound, be a defensive terror. He won't score like Samardo scores but he will rebound, block shots and change the game."
Samuels' departure also creates a larger role next season for Gorgui Dieng, a 6-foot-10 shot blocker who committed to Louisville last week. Pitino indicated he expected to receive a letter of intent from the Huntington Prep center on Thursday.
"The opportunity for those coming in will be tremendous," said Pitino.
Despite losing four starters and the top three scorers from a team that finished 20-13 and was eliminated handily in the NCAA Tournament first round by California, Pitino sounded optimistic about his programs future on the day he announced his best player would remain in the NBA Draft.
"We're very excited about our future," Pitino said. "It was very difficult coaching this team last year because we were limited and really could not run our system. We're going to get back to the way we used to play where we are all over the place offensively and defensively with constant pressure and getting out in the open court."
Without Samuels 15.3 points per game, Pitino will spend the off-season trying to devise ways to replace his offensive output next season.
"We are rebuilding our image," Pitino said. "Rebuilding doesn't mean losing. We're not rebuilding like IU where they're depleted and they've got to do it from scratch. But we are rebuilding on offense because we are losing a lot of points and we'll have to get our points off defense [next] year. I think we're going to have an athletic club that is exciting for the fans."
Pitino also said he's "cautiously optimistic" that signee Justin Coleman will be academically eligible next season. "He's got to go to summer school, but he's doing quite well right now," Pitino said. "We need him. He can score and he's a very good athlete. He'll fit what we're trying to do next year."