Former Tornadoes star Kevin Samuel, one of the Top 100-rated players in the nation in the mid-1990s, played on one of the most talented teams in Monroe history. Samuel averaged 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals on a Monroe team that had four of the Top 150 players in the country at the time, including his brother Keith Samuel. (Albany Sports Hall of Fame/Special to The Herald)
ALBANY — Kevin Samuel never really thought about how good he was at Monroe High School. A lot of college coaches and Albany’s Sports Hall of Fame noticed, though.
Out of several hundred thousand high school basketball players in the country, Samuel was regarded as one of the best — named as a Top 100 player in the nation at one point — on the hardwood during the 1996 season.
That fact, plus a solid four-year basketball career at Tennessee State University, are the main reasons Samuel will be inducted into the 26th annual Albany Sports Hall of Fame on Monday.
WHO: Dallis Smith, Tommy Sharpe, Verna Brown, Frank Hedrick and Kevin Samuel.
WHAT: 26th annual Albany Sports Hall of Fame Induction ceremony.
WHEN: Monday — 6 p.m., doors open; 6:30 p.m. banquet begins.
WHERE: Albany Civic Center — banquet room.
MORE INFO: (229) 431-1200.
“I actually didn’t really think about (being on of the Top 100 players in the nation) until about a month or two ago,” Samuel said Thursday. “My brother and I were talking about it and he said, ‘Even if you’re No. 100, you’re still one of the top basketball players in the country.’ We really didn’t think about it at the time, but now it’s quite an accomplishment.”
At 33, Samuel will be one of the youngest former players ever inducted into the Albany Hall of Fame in recent years, an invitation that he was “super excited” about when his mother called to let him know.
“I was thinking 50 or 60 for the Hall of Fame,” Samuel said. “That’s an accomplishment in itself to be this young. That was really surprising.”
Samuel played on one of the most talented teams in Monroe history in the mid-90s, led by long-time Tornadoes coach James Little. Samuel averaged 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals on a Monroe team that he says had four of the Top 150 players in the country, including his brother Keith Samuel.
“We had a great program,” said Kevin Samuel, whose teams advanced to the Sweet 16 twice. “We had a lot of size and speed and won a lot of games my four years there. It was a hot time for Monroe High School.”
Little remembers Kevin Samuel as a pure shooter who hit nearly 51 percent of his 3-point attempts his senior season en route to being named All-State — an honor bestowed upon the 6-foot-3 guard twice.
“He could really shoot it,” Little said. “Kevin really came on his junior year and by the time his senior year (ended) he got a lot of looks from a lot of different people. He could have gone to Minnesota, Kansas State or the University of Georgia. That’s how good he was.”
Samuel nearly went to play for Clem Haskins at Minnesota, but he chose to play college ball with his brother at Tennessee State because the two were so close.
“My mom wanted us to stay together,” he said. “I was supposed to go to Minnesota, but I wanted to continue to play with my brother, too. All in all, I think it was a good choice for me.”
Samuel, who averaged nearly 13 points and five boards at Tennessee State, also credits his brother for turning on his love for basketball.
“I give my brother a lot credit for making me as good as I was,” Kevin said. “I was a football player and I wasn’t very good at basketball, but I quit playing football after seeing (Keith play) as a freshman. It motivated me to get in the gym.”
He also believes his brother, who now lives in Texas, will someday get the call from the Albany HOF induction committee.
Kevin Samuel played in Freedom Hall in Louisville, one of the all-time great venues in college basketball, and went head-to-head with Arkansas and Nolan Richardson’s “40 minutes of Hell” style of defense. He was named Freshman Player of the Year in the Ohio Valley Conference and was honored as a team captain during his time in Cookeville, Tenn.
Samuel, who lives in Albany and works at Sherwood Acres Elementary, looks back on his time on the court with pride and is thankful for the memories Monday’s induction ceremony will bring back.
“I just want to thank a couple of people and give a run down of how my playing career has affected me positively,” Samuel said.