PITTSBURGH — Kansas State players, one-by-one, hugged him minutes before the tipoff. And then they proceeded to go out and give everything they had for their teammate.
This game was for Jamar Samuels, K-State’s fifth-year senior, who found out just hours before the game he wouldn’t be allowed to play due to “eligibility concerns.” It proved to be the final game of his career, as K-State fell to No. 1-seeded Syracuse 75-59 in the third round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday. The 6-foot-7 forward played in 133 games during his K-State career — laid it on the line for his team for 3,136 minutes during that time, yet the final 40 minutes ended with him as a spectator in street clothes — a nightmare of a situation for any senior.
“I told the team that we owed it to Jamar to play the best that we can play and win so he can get to play next week,” K-State head coach Frank Martin said. “Those kids laid it on the line to make that happen. Unfortunately it wasn’t good enough.”
The news of Samuels’ eligibility status didn’t become public knowledge until less than 30 minutes before tipoff of the Wildcats’ game.
“We’re working diligently to try to resolve it, even right now,” K-State athletic director John Currie said prior to the game. “Jamar Samuels has worked extremely hard academically and athletically throughout his career and we are certainly going to do everything we can to advocate for him.”
The issue, which Currie said K-State discovered in the 24 hours leading up to Saturday’s game, stemmed from a prior $200 wire payment of cash from Curtis Malone, the president of DC Assault, an AAU basketball organization that Samuels played for in high school. .
Malone, who did not return a phone call to The Mercury, is considered a family friend of Samuels. Malone is not a booster or an alum of K-State, which brings to question whether Samuels did anything against the rules (more on this later).
“I don’t just give a kid money,” Malone told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “According to a case, if Jamar don’t have any money or the kid don’t have any money during the week and he asks me can I give him a few dollars, I’ll do that.
“If that was a benefit, then I don’t really see how. It’s the same way when he played with DC Assault on road trips. When he didn’t have money to eat, he ate.”
Malone also spoke to CBSSports.com, and said the money was more for Samuels’ family.
“If I wanted to hide it, I would have done it differently,” Malone said. “The kid’s family doesn’t have anything and he called me for money to eat.”
Martin said he wasn’t of the decision to bench Samuels Saturday.
“If you want to know about the decision and technicalities and all those things, Jamar, in my opinion, has done nothing wrong,” Martin said after the game. “But the school has to protect its integrity. As a university, we have to take a stance and protect our university. Unfortunately it put him in a tough spot.”
After the game, Martin became emotional when talking about his 6-foot-7 senior.
“Here’s what I told (Samuels) when we got the information (Friday night): I said, ‘if this is the worst thing that ever happens to you in your lifetime, you’re going to be one of the luckiest human beings to ever walk on the face of the Earth.’ After that I choked up, because I’m all about kids, man,” Martin said while fighting back tears.
Martin was asked about what the Wildcats lost without Samuels on the court on Saturday, which caused him to pause to collect himself emotionally.
This was a side not many see of Martin in the public eye, but talk to any of his players, and this is the type of person he is — one that cares for his players like a father would care for his children.
“When you go through challenges with people, those experiences either push you further away from each other or they bring you closer to one another,” Martin said. “Every difficult moment that I’ve been through with Jamar has brought he and I closer to one another. I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder of a kid because of the way he’s grown and matured and 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.
“I’ve been as hard on Jamar as any kid I’ve ever coached and he’s never run away from it. It’s hard. I don’t get to coach him anymore. That’s not fun.”