DAYTON, Ohio — Three years ago as an incoming freshman for North Dakota State’s men’s basketball team, Tyson Ward was curious about his soon-to-be roommate. So he did a search on Jared Samuelson.
“Who is this kid? Huh?” Ward recalls thinking when he saw pictures of Samuelson. “He is playing with us? He just didn’t look like what I thought he would look like.”
Samuelson, a 6-foot-3 skinny walk-on from the small town of Gretna, Neb., didn’t look like a Division I basketball player.
Fast forward three years. Samuelson is now a junior captain for not only a Division I basketball team, but an NCAA Tournament basketball team. And if there is a player who epitomizes what Bison head coach Dave Richman longs for in a player, it’s Samuelson.
“If you gave Jared $1, if you gave him no dollars or if you gave him a hundred thousand dollars to play basketball, he’s going to do it the same way,” Richman said Tuesday, the day before his 18-15 Bison will take on North Carolina Central in an NCAA Tournament First-Four game.
“He is as tough of a kid as I’ve been around in a long, long time. He is mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually strong. That kid represents a lot of things that I want to be about and we’re about in our program.”
Samuelson averages nearly 30 minutes of playing time per game. He averages 8 points and ranks fourth on the NDSU career list for 3-point shooting making 43.6 percent. And he has become one of NDSU’s best defensive players — willing to take one charging foul after another like he displayed during last week’s Summit League tournament.
Four years ago when Samuelson showed up for an NDSU camp, Richman had no idea who he was. Samuelson was a quarterback for a Gretna football team that reached the playoffs twice. And he was a hot-shooting guard for Gretna’s basketball team that won a state championship his senior year.
“I knew nothing about Jared, other than that Jayden (Bison assistant coach Jayden Olson) encouraged him to come to camp,” Richman said. “This was a high-level camp and he just kept standing out in games. The more and more you watched him, the more and more he grew on you.”
Samuelson still had a lot to prove. After turning down a chance to play at NAIA Hastings College (Neb.) and turning down walk-on offers at the University of Nebraska and Nebraska-Omaha, Samuelson opted to move farther away from home.
“I liked the feel,” Samuelson said. “Obviously I liked the coaches and the team. And I kind of wanted to go somewhere outside the Omaha area, just something different.”
Initially, like many freshmen joining a Division I program, Samuelson had trouble adjusting to the speed of the game. He was used to playing zone defense in high school. For his first two seasons at NDSU, Richman admits Samuelson was somewhat of a liability on defense.
“As a freshman and early in his sophomore year, we were trying to hide him a lot,” Richman said. “Now, more often than not, he is guarding the opponent’s best perimeter player. He is very cerebral. He locks into the scouting report. He understands angles and he plays with a great amount of discipline.”
“We can always count on him defensively,” Ward said. “I know I will get 150 percent from him on the defensive end.”
And on the offensive end, Samuelson can provide well-timed points. Much like the charge he took on the defensive end late in the Summit League championship game against Omaha, his late-game 3-pointer helped secure the title win.
“He’s always in the gym shooting,” Ward said.
According to Richman, none of Samuelson’s somewhat-unexpected progression is by accident.
“Jared just shows up every day and he works,” Richman said. “He has poured himself into this. He is a really good player on an NCAA Tournament team.”