Tournament Tales: Samardo Samuels
Samuels starred under legendary coach Rick Pitino at an equally legendary hoops university, Louisville.
Louisville came into the 2009 Tournament with a 16-2 record in the Big East – 31-6 overall. It was the first year that all 16 teams were invited to the Garden and Samuels’ Cardinals didn’t play until the semifinal round on Thursday. They dropped Providence by 18 points and Villanova by 14, setting up a Final showdown with that year’s crowd favorite – Syracuse.
The reason Syracuse had won over the Big Apple crowd was that they had survived an epic six-overtime victory (the second-longest game in NCAA history) over UConn, and needed another extra session to defeat West Virginia to reach the championship game. By the time they got to Samardo’s top-seeded squad, they had little left in the tank. Louisville topped them by 10 – 76-66 – to win the school’s first ever Big East Championship.
The Cardinals took the top seed in the Midwest Regional in Indianapolis, but lost to the second-seeded Michigan State Spartans before reaching the Final Four.
In this spring’s first installment of Tournament Tales, Samardo Samuels – who started every game he played at Louisville – talks about his freshman experience in the Big East Tourney …
What do you remember from your first Big East Tournament?
Samardo Samuels: We beat Providence, then Villanova. We got a bye so we only had to play two teams. And then we played Syracuse after that crazy overtime game. They were kinda dead. We pretty much knew we were going to win the game after that.
How did you do personally that year?
Samuels: I did good. I made the All-Tournament Team. I had 15 points, led the team, in the Final game.
Did you have a lot of family and friends in the arena?
Samuels: Being from New York, I knew a bunch of people that came and watched. The Big East Tournament, that’s the main event in New York. And we won it – so that was even better.
Had you played in the Garden before?
Samuels: Yeah, a few times. St. John’s played in the Garden and I played there once in high school.
Did you have any nerves going into your first big college tournament?
Samuels: Nah, we were the favorite to win it. We were the No. 1 seed going into the Big East Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. We won the regular season Championship, so we had big momentum going into the Big East.
You and Luke Harangody had some good battles in college, but you didn’t face him in the Big East tournament.
Samuels: No, man. Notre Game got knocked out early.
How was Rick Pitino as a coach?
Samuels: He’s a funny guy, man. As a coach, the things that come out of his mouth are like … well, what can you say? He’s so sarcastic. My favorite is when he said to one of us: ‘You’re built like Tarzan, but you rebound like Jane.’ He does that to get you going, to get you mad at him, thinking: ‘Man, this guy is disrespecting me.’ But he’s a great coach. You have to respect him. He coached in the pros, he coached some great teams at Kentucky. He’s been around a long time, so he knows how to coach.
Is the Big East the toughest conference in college hoops?
Samuels: Yeah, by far. By watching other conference play, you can tell the Big East is much more physical. You’ve got some big boys going. It’s always been more physical. And I think guys stay longer in school in the Big East. So you’ve got some grown men going at it.