Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK — Carmelo Anthony couldn’t quite pronounce the name of the NBA rookie who drew the critical, game-turning charge on him Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
“I don’t even know his name,” Anthony said after the Cleveland Cavaliers outscored the Knicks 27-11 down the stretch to win, 119-115, for their third win this season over New York.
Told that the rookie’s name was Samardo, as in Samardo Samuels, Anthony said, “I just pushed him. He flopped a little bit. It is what it is.”
Starting his second career NBA game, Samuels, the former Louisville and St. Benedict’s Prep standout, came up big. He notched 15 points and six rebounds while inducing Anthony to commit two fourth-quarter charges and a technical foul in the second.
With the Knicks trailing 117-115, Anthony began an isolation move to the basket. He drove past several defenders and then ran into the 6-foot-9, 260-pound frame of Samuels planted firmly under the basket. The charging call came with 1.2 seconds left. Luke Harangody iced the game on the other end with two foul shots.
“I was watching the play the whole time,” Samuels said. “I was guarding Jared Jeffries so it kind of allowed me to roam around and help. I saw him [Anthony] fumble the ball a little bit so I know that messed him up, so he had to do something real quick. His whole mind-state was to get to the rim and it was a perfect opportunity to pull over and take the charge at that point.”
Yet another Knick-killing Cavalier wearing a Yankees hat in the locker room, Samuels added: “At the end of the day, I’m a big dude. Ain’t too much gonna hurt me out there.”
Samuels’ performance came on the heels of his first career start against San Antonio, in which he notched career-highs of 23 points and 10 rebounds.
“My confidence is kind of like sky-high right now knowing that we lost so many games and right now it’s just time for me to get better as a basketball player and just move forward and get back to where I was,” Samuels said.
Cleveland head coach Byron Scott said Samuels is playing with a chip on his shoulder.
“First of all, he wasn’t drafted,” Scott said. “He was national high school player of the year [in 2008], wasn’t drafted, left school early. And he’s really had to do it the hard way to get in the league, so right now that chip is obviously helping him. Hopefully, he keeps it for the rest of his career.”
Samuels’ play impressed both Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire.
“He’s a solid ballplayer,” Stoudemire said. “He plays with energy. “He’s strong and he finishes around the baket.”
Born in Trelawny, Jamaica, Samuels came to Queens as a high school student to seek a better life. After one year at Our Savior New American, he transferred to St. Benedict’s and played for then-coach Dan Hurley.
Those teams were loaded with future Division 1 players like Lance Thomas (Duke), Corey Stokes (Villanova) and Eugene Harvey (Seton Hall) and regularly placed near the top of the national prep rankings.
Samuels has known fellow Jamaican Patrick Ewing since he was young, and he said Ewing still busts his chops about his college choice.
“Me and Pat rap all the time,” Samuels said. “We always joke. His joke is always why I didn’t go to Georgetown. He’s still teasing me about that.”
Instead, Samuels went to Louisville in part because coach Rick Pitino visited his family in Jamaica during his recruitment.
Yet their marriage was not a perfect union.
“College was kind of like wishy-washy,” Samuels said. “It ain’t really what everybody expected.”
He opted to come out after averaging 15.3 points and 7.0 rebounds as a sophomore. And he consulted Hurley for some advice last year before the NBA Draft.
“When I was trying to get a little background he was unbelievable,” Samuels said of Hurley, now the Wagner College coach.
Still, he went undrafted and landed in camp with the Cavs.
After contributing to winning programs in high school and college, Samuels said it was tough being part of a team that this year suffered a 26-game losing streak and entered the Knicks game with 25 consecutive road losses.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “But you know what, you still gotta be a professional and that’s what I’ve been learning. You still gotta do the same things.
“You just gotta add other things so you can start winning at this level because it’s the best of the best. And that’s what I’ve been doing, just working my ass off every day.”
Scott says Samuels has a high ceiling because he has “good feet” and “good quickness” and can shoot the ball out to 17-18 feet.
“I think really Samardo as long as he continues to grow at the rate that he’s growing and learning this game,” Scott said, “he could be a pretty good basketball player in this league for a long time.”
Maybe even long enough for ‘Melo to learn his name.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.