PITTSBURGH — Jamar Samuels hopes his third trip to the NCAA Tournament goes better than his first two. But he isn’t searching for redemption.
The Kansas State senior forward has tried making this moment all about him in the past, and it didn’t help. He used to be haunted by postseason struggles. No more.
“I’m not even worried about it,” Samuels said. “I’m just trying to play basketball. All that stuff is behind me. I’m just ready for the tournament.”
Samuels has played six NCAA Tournament games and has one positive memory. It’s one he wants to duplicate this week. During a double-overtime victory over Xavier in the Sweet 16, he scored 14 points and helped the Wildcats earn one of the biggest wins in program history.
“I still think about that game,” Samuels said.
Otherwise, his postseason experiences have been a nightmare.
Including two NIT games as a freshman, he has averaged 4.3 points and 4.0 rebounds this time of year. He scored a combined three points in three games as a sophomore to go along with the Xavier win. Then he scored four points in a win over Utah State and nine points in a loss to Wisconsin as a junior.
Compared to other stretches of his college career, in which he has posted double-doubles and scored as many as 27 points, they were all disappointments. His struggles as a sophomore stuck with him, and he put incredible pressure on himself to do more last season. The strategy didn’t work.
Now he’s trying something new. He keeps telling himself to stick to his game, have fun and stay loose.
K-State coach Frank Martin is encouraging him.
“He just needs to be who he has been this year,” Martin said. “He doesn’t need to worry about last year. I understand that those are moments that fuel your fire to get better and he’s done that.
“He’s proven that over 31 games that he is a way better and more consistent player than he was last year. He just needs to rely on who he has become this season. If he keeps his focus on that and who his team needs him to be and doing his job the way he’s done it this year, he’ll be fine.”
Samuels appeared to be playing at his best two weeks ago. He finished the regular season with three double-doubles in four games, and helped K-State earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament. But he didn’t perform well in the Big 12 Tournament. He failed to grab a rebound during a quarterfinal loss to Baylor.
He’s trying to move past it the same way he is trying to prepare for March Madness.
“I’m just trying to go out with a bang,” he said.