NEW YORK – Women’s basketball forward Shadeen Samuels brought flowers to the Garden on Oct. 25. It was her first Big East Media Day, and the junior’s bubbling personality shined through at Madison Square Garden like her athleticism did inside Walsh Gymnasium last season.
The versatile, 6-foot cornerstone of Tony Bozzella’s 2018-19 team was one of four players to take the train ride from South Orange to Penn Station, for the annual formal gathering of the conference’s coaches and elite players. Her suit, which featured roses bending upward, was a combination of neat and eye-popping, much like her movement on the court.
Samuels made a habit of success at Ossining High, winning four straight state titles, but she came to Seton Hall during the blueprint stages of Tony Bozzella’s current rebuild. Following a 12-19 season in which she averaged 4.3 points and 3.7 rebounds, Samuels took a step forward along with the team, averaging 7.5 points and a team-leading 6.5 rebounds for the 16-16 Pirates of 2017-18.
In year three, more comfortable in her role, with familiar teammates beside her, Samuels spoke with clarity and perspective about the journey toward the present moment.
JJ: Last year, you really took a step forward. You came in and averaged more points and played more minutes. What would you credit that step forward to?
SS: “I would say that goes out to my coaches and my teammates. Because, in high school I was – I would say like a very…offensive-minded kind of person. And then, when I got here, I think I kind of dropped that. So, my sophomore year I kind of started gaining back the confidence that I lost. So, it started to show a little more in my game, which I’m hoping will show a lot more this year.”
JJ: Yeah, and I know you had a lot of success in your high school career. Was it four titles?
SS: “Yeah, four titles.”
JJ: So, was it difficult when you went from that to your freshman year at Seton Hall, which was the first year of a big rebuild?
SS: “It was really hard. Transitioning from, you know, winning four state championships and never really losing a game, to college basketball where it’s not always certain you’re going to win. I guess I wasn’t as prepared as I wanted to be, so, it was kind of like a smack in the face. So, that’s why I really tried harder my sophomore year to, like, gain all that back.”
JJ: Going into this year, how much different does it feel compared to two years ago, and how does it feel now, knowing you are coming out of that rebuild?
SS: “It feels good. I think the support that we have within our team is, you know, a big thing. So, for me, I feel – like, my confidence is up there. If I make a mistake, I know my teammates are never going to be mad at me. So, I think that plays a big role in how we play, and that’s going to help us a lot.”
JJ: You have a really good partnership in the frontcourt forming with Kimi [Evans], Selena [Philoxy], and some of the newcomers. How good does it feel to have that group together?
SS: “It feels good. They help me out a lot [laughs]. Even though I’m the older one, there’s times where I make mistakes, and then, I look around and they’re there to help me out. Just the help that we have within each other is great and, you know, I don’t know what I would do without them.”
JJ: You’ve mentioned how that freshman year was a learning experience for you. Can you point out a moment where you feel like you turned the corner?
SS: “I would say the summer going into my sophomore year. … I just, like, changed my mindset a lot. I got in the gym more. I was just more focused on doing better. I knew my freshman year wasn’t what I wanted it to be. So, I think it’s like a mindset thing, like, I just changed my whole mindset.”
JJ: What was it like going from that freshman season to your sophomore season where, it was already a rebuild, but then that sophomore year you had players go out and players come in? It was almost like another new team.
SS: “Honestly, I think it was good, because, I think it gave me an opportunity to start over. So, even though I was rebuilding myself, the team was rebuilding, so I didn’t feel like I was out of everything. Because I feel like, freshman year everyone was so comfortable and I wasn’t.
“So, if I went to my sophomore year with that comfortable team, I would probably not have been as confident and comfortable as I wanted to be. So, I think the changing of the team helped out a lot.”
James Justice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.