Samardo Samuels vs. Greg Monroe
The #1 vs. #2 prospects matchup did not disappoint. Samardo Samuels came out on top, both individually as well as on the scoreboard, scoring 25 points with 7 rebounds and 5 blocks while shooting 12-21 from the field. Monroe settled for 11 points and 15 rebounds shooting a dismal 5-17 from the field. Samuels started the first three quarters playing mostly in the high post, where he was dared to shoot by Monroe and found limited success (connecting on just two mid-range jumpers). He was quiet early on but exploded in the fourth quarter to put the game away for St. Benedicts. Monroe played the high post mostly himself too, putting the ball on the floor and getting a bit predictable at times with his moves. He finished very poorly around the basket, looking fairly soft inside and quite frustrated by the end. He was no match for Samuels once his coach decided to send him down to the post and let him do what he does best.
Greg Monroe, 6-10, Power Forward, Senior
Committed to Georgetown
Regardless of how Monroe looks on any given night at this point in his development, though, its not hard to see why people like his potential so much. Standing 6-10, with an outstanding frame, a great wingspan, and all the athleticism you could hope for from a player his size, Monroe looks the part of a future NBA lottery pick, and then some. Hes a smooth, fluid player at that too, with great coordination, but also an explosive first step and the ability to get off the floor with ease to block shots and finish around the rim.
Monroe has more than just the physical tools down pat, he also has most of the skills you look for in a prototypical modern day NBA power forward. Offensively, he loves to face the basket, where he does an outstanding job putting pressure on the defense creating his own shot with his excellent ball-handling skills and smooth body control. He uses jabs and can stop and go with some very nice hesitation moves (not common at all for a player his size), mostly preferring to go to his left (his natural hand), and serving as a tremendous mismatch threat in the process for opposing big men--something that will continue to hold true both in college and potentially in the NBA as well. He mostly goes all the way to the basket to finish with his left hand (his right hand needs work here), but can even pull-up off the dribble at times for a mid-range jumper or stop and pivot sharply to his opposite shoulder for a reverse layup to avoid oncoming traffic. These are raw moves for him at this point that clearly need practice, but show a great deal of promise.
Continuing with his work in the high post, Monroe can also pass the ball extremely well thanks to his high basketball IQ, or throw a nice outlet pass. He also has a good looking jump-shot that didnt fall as consistently as you might have hoped considering how much time he spent hanging out on the perimeter. His shot-selection was often poor and he clearly overdid it in this tournament at times, looking noticeably absent in the paint while there was plenty of action going on down there. Judging by the way he finishes his post-moves, he doesnt seem to be the most contact loving big man in the world at this point, and he clearly suffered when forced to get his shot off against fierce competition. He lacks some strength and polished footwork right now, sometimes just throwing the ball up at the rim while showing poor balance and an underdeveloped right hand.
Defensively, Monroe can make his presence felt at this level as a shot-blocker thanks to his combination of size, length, quickness, and timing. Hes nowhere near reaching his full potential on this end, though, as his fundamentals are extremely poor, completely avoiding contact in the paint and giving his man way too much space to operate without opposition, even right around the basket. He got torn apart trying to play Samardo Samuels this way in the fourth quarter of the semifinals, and gave up easy basket after easy basket in the process. Monroe also gets outhustled for rebounds occasionally, not boxing out and really not showing enough desire either, despite the fact that he could be a real dominant force if he put his mind to it. His terrific second bounce, hands and touch (for tip-ins) allowed him to do so in stretches on the offensive glass for example, where he looks a bit hungrier.
Really the most concerning thing about Monroe is the fact that its not quite clear how much he loves playing basketball at this point. In the first game we saw him, he was often spotted just walking up and down the court while everyone else on the floor was running, looking incredibly lazy, aloof and disinterested, pouting when things didnt go his way, and having no shame at all while every major recruiting service in the country took note of his apathy. He brought it a lot more for the Samuels matchup, but still showed a great deal of frustration with himself when things began to unravel for him in the fourth quarter.
His body language is really concerning for a player his age, looking as if hes already proven everything he needs to prove. That seemingly poor mental toughness combined with his already clear lack of physical toughness paints a pretty underwhelming picture for him as far as his character is concerned, and thus you have to question the likelihood of him actually achieving the incredible amount of potential that he clearly possesses. It could very well be that these issues will get resolved as he gets older and continues to mature (hes younger than most people in this class), so well have to wait and see before we make any final judgments. Right now, though, there seems to be a lot to be concerned about, as if the hype might have come a bit too early and already gotten in his head. Its a shame, because he really is a supreme talent.
Samardo Samuels, 6-9, PF/C, Senior
Committed to Louisville
Were talking about an old-school, no frills, meat and potatoes type big man. Already pretty physically developed for his age, Samuels possesses a great frame, complete with a strong upper body and a nice wingspan which allows him to play bigger than his somewhat average height. Hes almost a man amongst boys at this level, which is both a blessing and a curse when comparing his short-term and long-term evaluation as a prospect.
Samuels biggest strength right now seems to be his ability to score with his back to the basket. He establishes good position deep inside the paint on a regular basis, and does an exceptional job using his body to seal him man, move guys around in the post, and shield the ball from his defender. Hes quite a natural down low, showing great patience waiting for things to develop, and possessing excellent footwork, nice spin-moves, and great touch around the basket. He likes to finish emphatically around the hoop with a powerful two-handed slam, but at times lacks a bit of explosiveness to complete a play when hes a bit outside of his comfort zone and in traffic. Regardless, hes very physical and fundamentally sound and should be a 15 point plus scoring threat virtually right off the bat for Louisville.
As much as hes a blue collar back to the basket player, his team used him mostly as a high post power forward in the game against Greg Monroe, likely for spacing purposes. Monroe backed off him a good amount and dared him to shoot 18 footers, which Samuels indeed attempted to, but found very limited success. His jump-shot does not appear to be a great weapon of his at the moment, but with that said, it doesnt look broke either, and therefore could very well develop into something he can use down the road if he continues to work on it. Samuels can put the ball on the floor reasonably well, showing solid ball-handling skills for a player his size and even the ability to change directions and avoid defenders on his way to the hoop. Hes nowhere near as smooth or flashy as Greg Monroe is, but he does possess the ability to create his own shot from the outside.
Not one to force the issue, Samuels doesnt seem to have any problem being just another cog in his teams offense. Hes a solid interior passer, as evidenced by the work he did on the high/low his team played with some decent success with Samuels in the high post and Greg Echenique down low. He has a very nice demeanor out on the court, and a calmness that can be confused with passivity at times. Hes unselfish, and is always cheering his teammates on.
Defensively, Samuels competes, and is a pretty fundamental player, but lacks some natural tools that might come back to hurt him when it will finally be time to assess his NBA draft stock. An inch or two under the prototype, Samuels does not really make up for his lack of size with freakish athleticism, particularly when it comes to his lateral quickness. He was exposed on a number of occasions trying to guard Greg Monroes first step out on the perimeter, simply not being able to stay in front of him. As a rebounder, though, Samuels does an excellent job. He boxes out well, and has the length, strength, timing and hands to really be an impact player on the glass at the collegiate level. Hes also tough enough to step in and take a charge from time to time, and is a pretty good shot-blocking threat as well for the same reasons outlined above.
All in all, Samuels is an outstanding basketball player who should quickly establish himself as one of the top big men in college basketball once he lands at Louisville. There are a lot of things to like about him for the next level as well, even if playing in college will clearly benefit him considering how much of a physical advantage he possesses at the moment. He reminds of somewhat of a cross between Al Horford and Carlos Boozer, but his good but not great athleticism will give some scouts reason for pause until he really starts putting up numbers at the college level.