MANHATTAN — Jamar Samuels displayed no emotion as he leaned forward in the chair to talk.
While teammates and coaches smiled and eagerly discussed the upcoming NCAA Tournament, the Kansas State junior forward acted as if he was preparing for an exhibition game.
"I'm not trying to get overly excited, because last time I did I didn't play well in the tournament," Samuels said. "So I'm trying to just mellow out and be myself."
For those who have been around Samuels this season, that approach is not surprising. Since October, he has lamented his play in the NCAA Tournament like a giant stain on his permanent record.
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Despite K-State playing high-quality basketball and advancing to the Elite Eight, he struggled through three poor games. First came a two-point effort against North Texas, then a one-point game against BYU, and a scoreless performance against Butler wiped away any good memories from scoring 14 against Xavier.
Had Samuels lived up to his Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year status or maintained his 11-point scoring average in the postseason, he said, the Wildcats would have reached the Final Four. To say he took the season-ending loss to Butler personally would be an understatement.
"He wasn't happy about it," K-State coach Frank Martin said. "He's made that public that he came back this year with a feel that he let the team down in the NCAA Tournament and he wanted to do better."
So much so, he has radically changed both his approach to games and playing style.
A year ago, he was regarded as the team's jokester. Put a microphone in front of his face, and hilarity ensued. On the court, he relied on energy to play. The few times he started, he was so amped up that he committed silly fouls. Coming off the bench was a necessity, so he could view the game and come in calm.
But as a junior, he made a concerted effort to become more serious and even-keel. He figured his teammates needed a more steady presence on the floor and in the locker room to be successful.
Martin says he figured right.
"He's got to be more consistent and got to produce more for us right now than what ever happened during last year's NCAA Tournament," Martin said. "His spirits are good. He's just got to play better."
How well does Samuels need to play to feel satisfied? That's yet to be determined.
But before boarding a plane bound for Tucson and Thursday's first-round game against Utah State, he gave everyone a clue. As those around him talked about some of the big postseason games provided by Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly, he was asked what it would mean to him if he achieves his goal and puts up similar impressive numbers this time around.
All he could do was shrug.
"As long as we win," Samuels said. "I'm fine."