Ready for Take Off

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In the course of one offseason, the Cavaliers went from an aging squad to one of the league’s youngest. And this youth movement is especially evident along the Wine and Gold’s frontline.

Along with the former MVP’s departure, the Cavaliers also lost a pair of seven-footers who combined for nearly 2,000 games and 40,000 points. They were also well into the “last-hurrah” stage of their careers.

The oldest true “big” on the squad is Anderson Varejao, and he just turned 28 on Tuesday. Leon Powe and Ryan Hollins are just 26. J.J. Hickson turned 22 earlier this month. And then there’s the frontline’s freshman – Samardo Samuels.

On a team with a chip already on its collective shoulder, Samuels should fit right in. Undrafted and undersized, the former Louisville star joined the Wine and Gold after a successful stint in Summer League with the Chicago Bulls.

After being one of the most highly-touted prep stars in the nation, Samuels led Rick Pitino’s club in scoring and rebounding as a sophomore. Yet, when the 2010 Draft rolled around, Samuels went through the evening without being selected.

“You can’t cry about it, you just have to keep fighting,” reasoned Samuels. “Your dream is to play in the NBA. There have been other guys that have been successful in the NBA who weren’t drafted. I definitely have that chip on my shoulder because I feel like I’m better than some of the guys that did get drafted. But at the same time, everything happens for a reason.”

Samuels did take on some of his Draft night frustrations during this past Summer League – saving his best game (17 points, seven boards) for a matchup with the No. 5 overall pick, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins. (Cousins went 3-for-15 in that game.)

The 6-9 Samuels is known for his strength, length and basketball IQ. And like the rest of Cleveland’s group of young bigs, he’ll likely get a baptism by fire. In that regard, landing on the North Shore might have been the perfect position for the Jamaica native.

“Right away, I was like, ‘This might be a blessing that I went undrafted’ with things going the way they did. You never can question the Man above. There’s always a plan. And I’m glad, moving forward, that things worked out the way they did. I’m just excited for the season and what I think I can bring to the table.”

Along the revamped frontline, there is only one seven-footer: Ryan Hollins. Andy’s the only other player at 6-foot-double-figures. J.J. and Samuels both measure in at 6-9 and Leon Powe is 6-8.

But what that quintet might lack in size, they hope to make up for in hustle and toughness. Varejao’s has never used his height as his main advantage, nor has Powe. Hollins strength is his quickness as a seven-footer and Hickson simply plays above the rim, regardless of his height.

Samuels hopes to cut his niche in the same way other undersized, overachieving forwards like Carl Landry and Paul Milsap have.

“I’ve been this size forever,” laughed Samuels. “I know how to maneuver and I know how to get my shot off. I like to score the basketball and I know ways to score. I can take the bigger defender off the dribble and, with a smaller defender, post him up and take advantage of that. I’m considered undersized for my position, so I have to use my quickness and my strength.

“Basketball is a thinking game, and you have to come up with ways to beat your opponent. And I think that’s what I do well: I’m constantly thinking about that on the court.”

Samuels already seems to be fitting in well with his new situation. He’s known Hickson for years – through high school tournaments and all-star games – and, after playing for Rick Pitino, is used to running his tail off in practice. Now, Samuels is simply looking to take the next step as the season rapidly approaches.

“My goal is to just get better every day and keep learning new things,” said Samuels. “Hopefully I can be as successful as I want to be and our team can get to the playoffs – do some things people weren’t expecting of us. I want to contribute to that, and I’m working hard every day to make sure it happens.

I’m in the best shape of my life. I feel a lot quicker. My game’s more polished than it was in college. My confidence is up. So it’s exciting. I’m excited for myself and I’m excited for Cleveland.”


Joe Gabriele is the official beat writer for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Cavs.com. You can follow Joe and send him your questions on Twitter at @CavsJoeG.