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Villanova product Jermaine Samuels hopes to catch on with Pacers after camp invite

08/11/2022, 2:30pm EDT
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)

Jermaine Samuels doesn’t have to look far for NBA inspiration. 

For most of this summer, the recent Villanova product worked out daily with former teammate and current Minnesota Timberwolf Eric Paschall.

Paschall is one of eight former Wildcats to suit up in the NBA this past season.

Samuels hopes to be the next Wildcat to make the jump to professional basketball’s top league.

He signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Indiana Pacers in June, played with the Pacers in the summer league and will join the team for training camp this fall hoping to take advantage of his opportunity.

“I’m working out as much as I can trying to make sure I’m ready for them so I can put my best foot forward,” said Samuels, a 6-7 forward.

Villanova product Jermaine Samuels plays for CTC at the Rumph Classic last week. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Like many of the other past Wildcats to make the jump to the next level, Samuels steadily improved throughout his career, going from averaging 1.1 ppg as a freshman to 6.4 ppg as a sophomore before averaging double figures in his final three seasons. 

Samuels averaged 11.1 ppg and 6.5 rpg in his fifth season at Villanova in 2021-22, earning Most Outstanding Player at the NCAA South Regional to help the Wildcats to their second Final Four during his tenure at the school.

“It’s crazy how things come back full circle,” Samuels said. “I was really appreciative of the time I had at Villanova and playing with those guys, Collin (Gillespie), Justin (Moore), Caleb Daniels, that entire crew that year. It was just a blast. We’ve been through so many ups and downs, it was amazing to get that far.”

The 23-year-old participated in the NBA Draft Combine and worked out for 10 different teams before the June 23 draft. The Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics both invited him back for second workouts.

Samuels went undrafted but signed an Exhibit 10 contract with Pacers after the draft and played for Indiana in the NBA Summer League. In three summer league games, he averaged 4.3 ppg and 2.3 rpg in 9.6 mpg.

“It was a great experience just to have the opportunity to be around the league and being a part of a great organization like the Pacers,” Samuels said. “I was really grateful for it.”

“I thought I played pretty well with the opportunity given. Obviously, it’s a business. Everybody gets their own opportunities, but I feel like I made the most of it.”

Samuels isn’t the only recent Villanova product on the doorstep of the NBA. His teammate over the last five seasons, Gillespie, also went undrafted and signed a two-way contract with the Denver Nuggets.

Gillespie and Samuels played against each other during a workout with the Utah Jazz during the evaluation process and saw each other in Las Vegas while both were playing in the NBA Summer League.

Gillespie recently fractured his lower left leg to temporarily sideline him during his NBA pursuit.

“We talked every single day, still do,” Samuels said. “That’s my guy for life. It’s a crazy time, but he’s built for it.” 

The Villanova program wasn’t always an NBA pipeline during Jay Wright’s tenure, which ended this past offseason with his retirement. 

Kyle Lowry is set to enter his 17th NBA season and Randy Foye and Dante Cunningham had lengthy careers in the league early in Wright’s tenure. Others like Allen Ray, Maalik Wayns and Darrun Hilliard had short stints.

Then came along Villanova's 2016 and 2018 title teams and all of sudden it's hard to find an NBA game without a Wildcat on the floor.

Jalen Brunson, who showed up on the first night at the Rumph Classic, recently inked a big deal from the Knicks and Mikal Bridges was rewarded for his play with the Suns last winter with a sizeable contract as well. 

Paschall, Josh Hart, Saddiq Bey and Donte DiVincenzo all appear established in the league, while Ryan Arcidiacono played 10 games last season.

“They set the example for us,” Samuels said. “That’s what they did in college for us, me, Collin (Gillespie), Saddiq, DaDa (Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree). Those guys paved the way for us to be in the position we are now.”

“People (from NBA teams) have talked about it just because there’s so many guys around the league on a bunch of different teams. It definitely does come up.”

The Wildcats’ NBA presence also provides a rich resource for Samuels and other players who come through the program.

“Since they have so much experience, it means the world when they come back and give me advice,” Samuels said. “Jalen does the same thing, Donte, Josh Hart, they all come back and they give their two cents and you try to apply it. That’s the beauty of it.”

Villanova has rightfully earned the nomenclature, ‘Guard U’ for the talented ballhandlers to come through the program over the last two decades like Lowry, Brunson and Gillespie. 

However, a large group of the program’s most recent NBA mainstays play the wing position, and Samuels could be the next to fill that mold.

His defense, rebounding, motor and IQ are traits that have helped other Wildcats find their place in the league.

“Everything that we do at Villanova, toughness, unselfishness, wanting to do whatever it takes for our team to win.” Samuels said of what the Pacers said they like about his game. “I just gotta keep working on my game, keep working on my shot.”

Samuels wasn’t sure about all the details of the Pacers’ training camp. Until then, he is currently living in assistant coach Dwayne Anderson’s basement as he works out on the Main Line. His shot is definitely a focus after a down shooting year in 2021-22, when he dropped from 37.1 percent from deep to 27.6 percent from 3-point range.

Samuels’ professional future will gain clarity after training camp, when he will find out if he fits into Indiana’s future plans. The Pacers can turn the Exhibit 10 contract into a two-way contract before the season, which would allow Samuels to bounce between the G-League and NBA.

His focus is just on showing what he can do on the floor.

“I’m just trying to do what I can with the opportunity given,” Samuels said. 

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