MANHATTAN — For Jamar Samuels, this season has been about personal growth.
So don't bother questioning the Kansas State junior about his declining individual statistics or his recent scoring slump. Right now, none of that annoys him.
"As long as we're winning," he said, "I'm perfectly fine."
So much so that he considers himself a better basketball player today than he was at any point last year, when he averaged 11 points and 4.9 rebounds on his way to a handful of explosive games and the Big 12's Sixth Man of the Year award — by a wide margin.
"Last year I scored, but it really didn't mean anything," he said. "Because the NCAA Tournament came and my scoring went down and my confidence went down. Right now I feel like what I'm doing is actually helping the team."
The Wildcats' recent hot streak — seven wins in eight games — certainly backs up that statement, and indicates Samuels, who is scoring 8.7 points and grabbing 5.2 rebounds, is playing the way K-State coach Frank Martin desires.
He may not be the flashy player who comes off the bench to energize K-State with exciting plays anymore, but K-State no longer requires him to be.
"It's a different role," senior guard Jacob Pullen said. "Last year we needed him to come off the bench and put the ball in the basket. This year we're asking him to do a lot more. We need him to guard and rebound and do other things. He's adjusted to that role and doing his best job possible."
While starting every Big 12 game, Samuels has done that by shifting his focus to defense and rebounding. He still occasionally comes through with a scoring performance, such as when he scored 22 points and grabbed nine boards against Texas Tech, but he doesn't take the court with that being his goal.
Charges taken are now a stat he keeps track of.
A year ago, when he was regarded as the team's prankster and was always in the mood to tell jokes at news conferences, he rarely considered sacrificing his body for the good of his team.
He's intentionally less eccentric now, and tries to keep the laughs to a minimum. He says he wants to set a serious example for younger teammates.
"I'm 21," Samuels said. "Can't joke like that anymore."
Martin has noticed the change, and says he is more impressed with Samuels today than a year ago.
"His attitude, his maturation, he just has really, really gotten better," Martin said. "He's accepted the responsibility of not being a background player. He's a frontline guy."
Despite a two-game stretch in which he scored a combined two points against Texas and Missouri, he's a starter to stay. With Wally Judge and Freddy Asprilla leaving the team midseason and Curtis Kelly fighting suspensions and up-and-down play early, Samuels has been the Wildcats' most consistent inside player all year.
"His willingness to keep this team together while all that stuff was going on is what's made me the happiest," Martin said.
Still, Samuels may need to do recapture some of his old offensive mojo for the Wildcats in the postseason.
If so, Samuels insists it will happen on the team's terms.
"We're winning," Samuels said. "We were down the totem pole. Now we're rising up. I don't really need to score like that anymore. We've got other good scorers. I'll have a breakout game at some point, but only when the team needs me to."