Jamar Samuels took a seat at the end of Kansas State’s bench Saturday, spotted his family sitting directly across from him at Consol Energy Center and lifted up his hands as if to say, “I don’t know what to tell you.”
He was wearing a black track suit instead of a uniform. He wasn’t going to play in K-State’s third-round game. K-State had just announced that the senior forward was dealing with an eligibility issue that two sources within the athletic department confirmed stemmed from a $200 wire transfer sent to him from Curtis Malone, who runs the DC Assault AAU basketball program Samuels used to play for.
Samuels received the money on Monday in Manhattan, a source said. K-State athletic director John Currie said he became aware of an eligibility issue Friday.
NCAA student-athletes are not allowed to accept money or gifts from anyone who is not considered a friend or family member. Malone told CBSSports.com after the game he didn’t think he was violating NCAA rules by sending money because of their long-standing relationship.
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"If I knew it and wanted to hide it, I would have done it differently," Malone told CBSSports.com. "The kid’s family doesn’t have anything and he called me for money to eat.
"The kid didn’t do anything wrong. To be honest, I didn’t think I did anything wrong, either. If a kid who plays for me needs money to eat, I’m going to help them."
More than two hours later, after the Wildcats had lost to No. 1-seed Syracuse 75-59 in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, that hadn’t changed.
Samuels was inside a locked room within K-State’s locker room, and his teammates struggled to explain why the only scholarship senior on the roster wasn’t able to play and how difficult it was without him.
“We were all shocked,” said Omari Lawrence, who sat next to Samuels throughout the game. “We still don’t know what the situation is or what took place. We just know we needed Jamar, because he’s a big part of our team. He’s a senior. He’s a leader. He does a lot for us. It was a blow not having him out there.”
The Wildcats learned they would be without Samuels late Friday night. K-State coach Frank Martin told them during a team meeting.
By then, K-State had already developed a gameplan and practiced for Syracuse expecting Samuels to be in the lineup. There was no time to come up with anything new. Martin didn’t disclose many other details.
“I told the team that we owed it to Jamar to play the best that we can play,” Martin said. “The kids laid it on the line to make that happen. Unfortunately it wasn’t good enough.”
Malone, who has had other former DC Assault players at K-State — Rodney McGruder, Michael Beasley, Wally Judge and Dominique Sutton — did not immediately return calls and text messages.
Before the game, Currie would not comment on the nature of the issue.
"We are working diligently to try and resolve it even right now,” he said. “Jamar Samuels has worked extremely hard academically and athletically throughout his career. We are certainly going to do everything we can to advocate for him."
Martin might not have agreed with the decision to bench Samuels.
“Jamar, in my opinion, has done nothing wrong,” Martin said. “But the school has to protect its integrity. I wasn’t part of the decision.”
Samuels averaged 10 points and 6.6 rebounds. He has struggled at times in the NCAA Tournament, including a one-point game against Southern Mississippi on Thursday, but could have been valuable against Syracuse. His size and experience could have made a difference against its zone defense.
Freshman Thomas Gipson started in his place and had eight points and eight rebounds.
K-State players were disappointed by the loss, but seemed more upset about Samuels missing the game. Sophomore guard Will Spradling hugged him on the sideline after fouling out and didn’t want to let go.
“It’s just sad he wasn’t able to play his last game in this jersey,” Spradling said.
Martin had the difficult task of telling Samuels he wouldn’t play after Currie made the decision to withhold him. Reliving the conversation brought him to tears.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder of a kid, because of the way he has grown and matured,” Martin said, his voice cracking. “The job he did for this team this year. As crazy as he drove me for five years, it’s frustrating that I don’t get to coach him anymore.”