When a grammatically flawed press release emerged from Jamaica a few weeks ago announcing Louisville's Samardo Samuels had declared for the draft, Louisville coach Rick Pitino admits he was bewildered as the rest of us.
It came as far less of a shock to Pitino, however, when he learned Tuesday that Samuels had decided to hire an agent and remain in the draft.
Pitino told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday that he began planning as though Samuels wasn't coming back to school after a phone conversation with the 6-foot-9 big man's parents a few days after he entered the draft. The Louisville coach may not have felt Samuels is anywhere near ready for the NBA, but he also insisted he supported the sophomore's decision to leave because he's trying to help his poverty-stricken family back in Jamaica.
"In Samardo's case, look, y'all have got to understand this is not a young man from the projects of New York or L.A. or Chicago," Pitino said. "This is a young man who's doing it for his family, who's trying to better his family. What we think is poor, you don't know poor. Whether he's making a right or wrong decision is irrelevant because he's doing it for the right reasons. That's why I support his decision."
Credit Pitino for taking the high road instead of speaking candidly because the truth is that this is one of the more ill-advised decisions any NBA prospect has made this season. The best-case scenario for Samuels is that a team spends a late second-round pick on him and even then he's unlikely to make a roster.
Worse yet for Pitino, the unexpected departure of Samuels means Louisville will have to replace three starters from last year's middling 20-13 team. There's nobody on the roster who can duplicate Samuels' low-post production of 15 points and 7 rebounds per game, though Pitino indicated Louisville will return to its frenetic, pressing, "kamikaze kids" roots and that reserve forward Terrence Jennings is excited about the opportunity to start.
"This is an opportunity for T.J. to get what he deserves," Pitino said. "I've noticed a drastic change in his attitude since he has heard Samardo may go pro. One man moving on is another person's opportunity, and T.J. does have tremendous potential.
"He's got to do what he does best: Out-run big people, block shots, rebound and be a defensive terror. He won't score like Samardo scores, but he will rebound, block shots and change the game."
Maybe the one feel-good aspect of Samuels' turning pro is that it opens up a scholarship for a recruited walk-on who truly deserves it. Elijah Justice, Kentucky's Mr. Basketball as a senior, had turned down offers from other schools even though there originally wasn't a scholarship available for him at Louisville.
"One person moving on opened up the door for a young man who certainly epitomized what loyalty is all about," Pitino said. "He is as dedicated a young man as I've seen since Billy Donovan. I haven't see someone with his work ethic in a long, long time."