Versatile Samuels Eager for Another Date in The Playoffs

KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer
Another State playoff opportunity that ends with a championship trophy would be a fitting and proper way for Jalen Samuels to end a memorable career.
Issue Date: 
February, 2019
Article Body: 

Jalen Samuels wants one more chance to compete in the State Tournament.
For the last two years, the Franklin High basketball team has rolled to a pair of Sectional titles, then advanced to the State playoff finals where it lost to Cambridge Rindge & Latin in 2017 and Mansfield last year. The two Sectional crowns and the two State Tournament appearances in the finals are the only times the Panthers’ hoop program has achieved those milestones.
With the tourney set to begin later this month, the 6-foot-3 senior tri-captain is eager for one final shot at a State crown before his career concludes at the interscholastic level.
“We started this season with a young and inexperienced team,’’ Samuels said. “But, we’ve got enough talent to get back to the States. My goal is to win the State title. We can achieve that.’’
Samuels, who last year was Franklin’s No. 2 scorer (13.1 average) and leader in rebounds (8.7 average) and blocks, is glad that he’s played a role the last two years in helping to establish a proud legacy for the basketball team. “I’ll always cherish what we’ve achieved,’’ he emphasized. “But, I want another chance at a State title. The key for us is to keep improving in practice and to build team chemistry.’’
Coach CJ Neely is bullish on his center-forward, who is so versatile that he can play point guard. “Jalen can shoot, rebound and block shots,’’ Neely said. “He’s a slasher who can also post up opponents. He could score more, but he’s focused in other areas. He averaged a block a game last year and was second in assists. Our last two tourney runs don’t happen without him. He made some big plays for us en route to the State finals.’’
Samuels is an aggressive, intense competitor who takes pride in his defense and strives for offensive excellence. “I like to get into my opponent’s space and force turnovers,’’ he said. “On offense, I prefer to drive and get high percentage shots. Getting all my teammates involved is the key.’’
So far, Franklin’s record is 6-3 and it should soon clinch a date in the tourney.
What makes Samuels so versatile and dependable are his on-court strengths. He’s quick, athletic, and instinctive. He also grades high in court awareness and his basketball IQ is high. As his coach says: “Jalen’s opponents all know about his passing, shooting and rebounding.’’
At Local Town Pages deadline, Samuels was averaging 11 points a game, 8.5 rebounds per contest and 2 blocks a game.
Samuels has worked diligently to be a captain who leads by example and by communicating. “I also want to be supportive of my teammates and I strive to be a role model,’’ he said.
Two teammates Samuels admires for their positive contributions are his fellow captains — point guard Chris Edgehill and forward Will Harvey. “Chris is a strong point guard who has all-around talent,’’ Samuels noted. “And, Will is hard-nosed on defense. A strong rebounder, he does all the dirty work.’’
Samuels also credits Neely for much of what Franklin has achieved the last two years. He’s the only coach who has taken a Hockomock League team to back-to-back State finals. “He’s a terrific motivator,’’ Samuels said. “He pushes us to play our best, and he’s not afraid to let us know we can improve. His game preparation is excellent.’’
Samuels, who’s been a three-year starter, is no stranger to all-star notices. He was on the all-underclassmen team as a sophomore and last year was a second-team all-star. “My individual goals this year are to improve my stats and to be a first-team Hockomock all-star,’’ Samuels said. “But, making our team better and leaving a strong legacy are really the key things that matter.’’
Samuels rates beating St. John’s in the Sectional final his sophomore year as the best game of his career. He had 11 points and 5 rebounds, but it was a key steal that helped sway the momentum in Franklin’s favor.
“The game was at Worcester State and St. John’s had so many fans attending,’’ he recalled. “I had never played in a game that was so huge and where the crowd was so partisan. I had a solid game, finishing plays at the rim. I also had a steal that took some time off the clock and allowed us to get to overtime where we won the game.’’
The 17-year-old Samuels, who moved to Franklin in Grade 2, is a good student who plans to major in law enforcement in college. He’s undecided on what school he’ll attend, but he hopes to play basketball, in either a Division 1 or 2 setting.
“Jalen can play at the college level,’’ Neely said. “He’s a quality competitor who goes about his business in a quiet way.’’
Calling his brother Jermaine, who’s a sophomore on Villanova’s basketball team, a role model for his help and advice, Samuels continues to rely on an athletic philosophy that focuses on winning and reaching his potential. He also realizes that sports can teach real-life lessons. “I’ve learned to never give up, to be resilient and responsible and how to manage time,’’ he noted.
Samuels is delighted he’s played a role in Franklin’s rich basketball legacy, but he admits he’s a bit sad that his days as a Panther are heading for the finish line. “I’ve been with a great group of teammates, and I’ve got great memories and relationships,’’ he emphasized. “I know there’ll be a new chapter and new challenges in the future, but I’ll always cherish what we’ve achieved at Franklin.’’