Samardo Samuels: “Once I left the NBA, I never really fought to get back. Cleveland carved my career out, but I could have been less vocal and more humble”

Jamaican forward-center Samardo Samuels has made headlines again. Less than five days after he got to score 12 points in the Greek All-Star Game in Heraclion, Crete, as a Panionios player, French club Chorale Roanne Basket announced a deal with him until the end of the season. The announcement mentioned also that Samuels “is due by Sunday provided that the administrative procedures are successful”.

Of course, this season has been full of surprises both for the 31-year-old and his current -or former- club Panionios Su Casa, which claims that the contract signed with him until the end of the present campaign is still valid and that no buy-out clause was included in it. This must be the culmination of a series of unfortunate events in the tumultuous relationship of the two sides, after Samuels was accused of indifference by Panionios officials in their Greek League game vs Rethymno in Crete on January 25, which resulted in the player threatening to forfeit the second half of that game unless he was paid immediately his contract’s latest installment. The tension was appeased once the team returned to Athens, while the player apologised to the management and even bought his teammates a nice dinner. One week after the incident, the former NBAer bid farewell to Panionios via his social media where he wrote: “That’s all folks. Thanks @Panioniosbc”. Usually, there’s no smoke without fire, but in that particular case it seemed that appearances were misleading.

TalkBasket.net caught up with the ex-Louisville Cardinals standout in Crete, on February 8, where Samardo Samuels had the chance to clarify his status with the Greek side. The veteran big man referred to his three-year stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers (2010-2013) and to his experience with Euroleague clubs like Armani Milan and FC Barcelona, with Lionel Messi being the icing on the cake.

“Man, I haven’t had the chance to go out yet, but I see the beach and I want to check it out”, Samardo Samuels said as he sat comfortably in his chair in one of Heraclion’s five-star hotels, next to other All-Stars like Jimmer Fredette, Brandon Rush and Conner Frankamp. “I remember that recently we played in Rethymno and I felt I wanted to go to the beach instead of having practice. It’s nice here. I really like it. It feels a lot like home: calm, relaxed. I’m pretty sure they have good restaurants, good food. Maybe in the future, when I’m done with basketball, I can come visit”.

I’m not sure Jamaica looks like Crete, but Samuels definitely didn’t look to me as someone who is about to leave his current team mid-season, capitalizing on his great numbers: 17 points on 36.6% threes and 55.6% free-throws, 6 rebounds, 3.2 turnovers in 15 games since October 2019.

Q: How is the situation with you and Panionios right now?

A: Good. We have a break and we need to catch up with some games. We’re like three wins behind and hopefully we’ll do that after the break, if we can put a full roster to finish the season with, because with the changes of guys it’s hard to build chemistry. But after the break I’m going back (to the team).

Q: Are you going to stay with Panionios until the end of the season?

A: Yeah, I’m planning to stay. I signed a contract with them, so after the break I’m going to come back with them. It’s a new contract. The last one expired February 1st. I will finish with them, just to see how it goes. Me and the coach (Cypriot Linos Gavriil) have an understanding. I know what he’s trying to do and it will be fun for me to help them not to get relegated. I will feel like I’ve accomplished something this season.

Q: Were there any misunderstandings in your relationship with the club?

A: You know, for me it’s up and down. It was a misunderstanding what happened in the game in Rethymno. Sometimes the pressure of being an athlete or wanting to be great causes certain things to happen. It sets you back. You work and you want to be paid on time. Any man would respect that. It was kind of unprofessional of me because I shouldn’t have put the jersey. It was mostly a mental thing. During halftime, I was able to get myself together. I came to Panionios with a certain mindset and it was comfortable for me to play here. Then, it didn’t really go how I planned.

Q: How does it feel being able to play basketball again?

A: I love the game. I’m glad that I can still play. I want to be doing that for five more years and that’s it. This year was difficult. It was hard to get a decent club this season for me, but I’m working hard, I’m working out and I see myself making progress. This season, I’m averaging close to 20 points. It’s just to show everybody that “hey, he’s still able to play basketball!”.

Q: Do you believe that you could have made better career choices in the last years?

A: Definitely. We’re human, we make mistakes. The older you get, the more you realize your mistakes and maybe more situations where I could have been less vocal and more humble, in social media and wherever. I could have stayed in course, be quiet. But that’s something you learn with age. Now I’m better at 31, I’m a better man. I still have this experience playing for great clubs and coaches. People always remember the bad things. I respect the game and the fans who want to see me play in games like the Greek All-Star Game. For me, it’s a blessing.

Samuels with Armani Milan (2013-14)

Q: Do you cherish your years at Cleveland?

A: No, I don’t (smiles). But Cleveland was great for me because it carved my whole career out. It taught me how to work hard. I don’t really trip because I know I have what it takes to succeed. I won’t get too low, I know I’m a great basketball player. That’s why I don’t care about other things, what people say and what they want to believe. In New York I started off with no job, I trained and was prepared. That’s why when I came to Panionios, I was ready to go.

Q: How were things for you in Cleveland?

A: It was great. I was on a non-guaranteed contract for three years. So, any day you could get cut. Going to work every day was like a heartbeat, like “today might be the day that they release you”, but it was good to step foot in NBA doors. I was the fifteenth man on the roster. You never really know what could have happened. Once I got out, I never really fought to get back. I was playing for Milan, FC Barcelona and some other good clubs. I was content with being over here and it wasn’t a big deal for me to get back to the NBA.

Q: Which was the best place you’ve played in Europe?

A: Milan. We won the championship there in 2014. That was a great team and those were definitely good times in my career.

Q: Barcelona?

A: Played like five minutes a game, nothing to rave about. But it was good. I got to watch Messi for a full season! (laughs) The best part was watching Messi and it was cool.

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