In his battle with COVID, Villanova wing Jermaine Samuels did what almost any typical college student would do if they were locked in a room and couldn’t leave for 14 days.
“I just hung-out,” Samuels said. “You get a lot of YouTube in, a lot of Video Games in just to try the pass the time, music, things like that.”
“Maxin’, Relaxin’ all cool”, as Will Smith says in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song.
But there was no “Shootin’ some B-Ball outside of the school”, for Samuels or anyone on the Villanova Men’s Basketball team for that matter, not since December 23 to be exact, which was the last time they played a game, a win over Marquette.
Obviously we know the physical effects COVID-19 has on the people that get infected by it, but a lot of times, the mental aspect of dealing with COVID is overlooked. Especially when you consider that Samuels is a college athlete, who is used to the hustle and bustle of competing in a season, especially a season like no other.
For Samuels, the mental health aspect of fighting the virus outweighed the physical.
“Definitely mentally,” Samuels said. “Being out for so long definitely took a toll, not even just me, the team in general, it definitely brought us closer.”
“You never know, just praying that no one else tests positive, being as safe as possible, also being distant from teammates, coaches, it’s tough,” Samuels added. “But we stayed positive, we had a lot of zoom calls, FaceTime calls, a lot of interacting with each other over the phone, it did help out a little bit.”
But getting back to the physical, it was fair to question how the team would look in their first game back from their two pauses with a day of practice in-between said pauses.
For Samuels and fellow Villanova guard Caleb Daniels, they had to wait a little longer than their teammates to come back from the pause, as they both tested positive for the virus. A fully healthy player was able to practice four days heading into the Seton Hall game.
Samuels and Daniels were only able to practice one day, as they were cleared on Monday.
“As soon as I found out I was cleared, I was extremely excited to take the floor and just go out there and try to contribute anyway I could,” Samuels said. “I know those guys were working hard just to be back, contributing was the most important thing to me, that’s one thing that was on my mind.”
“We practiced Thursday, Friday and Sunday without Caleb and Jermaine,” Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright said. “So they had to get cleared for Myocarditis on Monday so we didn’t know if they were going to be able to play so we said on Thursday we’re going into this game as if they can’t play and this will be our starting lineup, so we practiced that way, so when they got cleared Monday we moved practice back and got them in there but you didn’t know what they were going to feel like after one day.”
“Jermaine was incredible.” Wright added.
Incredible he was.
Forget the fact that he battled COVID and forget the fact that he only had one day to practice, scoring 20 points and hauling in nine rebounds in a Big East game is impressive. Even more impressive is the fact that he had all of those circumstances working against him, and he played the way he did.
“I truly am amazed, to be out two weeks and practice one day and be able to play like that,” Wright said. “He was efficient offensively, he had great stamina, he asked maybe two or three times to come out that he normally does not and one of the times I told him ‘no, suck it up’ and he did and he made a big play, so really impressed with his mental toughness, just his gifted athleticism to be able to do that today.”
In regards to the time Samuels asked to come out of the game: “I still had more left in the tank.” Samuels said.
In the past, Samuels has shown to be a bit timid at times on the offensive end. He took three shots in 22 minutes in the Marquette game earlier this season, he took two shots in 34 minutes in a game against Butler last season, he took one shot in 29 minutes in a game against Georgetown in 2019, zero shots in 15 minutes against Georgetown again in the same season. You get the gist.
So seeing Samuels show that aggressiveness on the offensive end and leading the team in shots is a step in the right direction for him.
“I felt like going into the Marquette game he was really starting to get a feel for our offense,” Wright said. “And we’re using him in a different way this year, it was a shame we got shutdown, he actually took a step from the Marquette game and it was really impressive.”
“It felt great,” Samuels said. “Honestly the coaching staff has been working real, real hard with me and allowing me to go in and just trying to be as confident as possible.”
“Just try and make the right basketball play and knowing that my teammates and coaches trust me, and just trying to make the right play within the offense and just trying to stay aggressive as well.” he added.
Coming back from COVID is no joke. We’ve seen the toll it’s taken on athletes. Once they beat the virus, they don’t look 100 percent when they come back.
But that wasn’t the case with Samuels. In fact, he looked better than ever before.
“I actually felt pretty good, being out, having time to stretch, having time to rest, just to hit the reset button kind of,” Samuels said.” “And then having that one day just getting re-aclimated knowing that the coaches were looking out for me and Caleb as well when it was time to ask for one, to come out of the game and just being confident in knowing that they had our back.”