Sunday, January 24, 2016

Samuels Seeing Improvement In The FAMU Rattler Squad

TALLAHASSEE, Florida -- The Florida A&M Rattlers are in a holding pattern, awaiting travel adjustments as a major snow storm covers the northeast United States. Already delayed, a game in the nation’s capital against the Bison of Howard University. Still, for a team with just two wins last season, head coach Byron Samuels has given the Rattler nation something to look forward to, with a steadily improving squad.

Last season, Samuels had just months to assemble his first squad. After the release of Clemon Johnson as coach, Samuels was hired in the Summer, a time when most sought-after recruits were already committed to other programs. Using mix of junior college transfers, a few high school graduates and one Division-I transfer, he fielded a team, knowing that the task was tall. In addition, the D-I transfer, Malcolm Bernard, would have to sit out the year from transferring laterally.

The Rattlers currently sit at 6-14 overall and 2-4 in MEAC play. Last season, the Rattlers managed a mere 2-27 overall record, 2-14 in conference play. While the improvement in the team is obvious from the record, the physical style of play of the Rattlers and their bolstered roster continues to draw respectable crowds to home basketball contests.

After an impressive team victory over Savannah State, Samuels expressed his thoughts on how different this team is from last season’s team. “Our kids continue to fight. Out theme going into the game was to elevate our game going into crunch time and we did that. I am proud of these guys and we’re continuing to improve and continuing to learn how difficult it is to get a win and especially in league play,” Samuels said.

Starting the second season as Rattler head coach, not a single starter returned from last season. Last season’s scoring and rebounds leader left the team. The second leading scorer transferred. Two players graduated and others simply are no longer with the team, with a laundry list of issues. Still, Samuels has done a solid job of building what he wants his team to look like in the future.

With a full year on the job, he has acquired some unique talent to the team. He has bulked up the size of the forwards, added some solid outside shooting and utilized his seniors Jerran Foster and Mario Karailiev as stabilizing forces.

This season, Bernard has emerged as the floor leader. Early in the season, as the team began developing their identity, he was the go-to guy. Now, he has settled into a facilitating role, scoring when he needs to, but setting up teammates when they have the ability to score. Freshman guard Justin Ravenel, has added length to the Rattlers’ scoring arsenal. Along with an improved Craig Bowman and key jumpers from Jerran Foster, the Rattlers have threats from the arc.

Tre Warren, Isaiah Omoregie Nick Severado and Francois Lewis have added significant size on the inside. Lewis is the dual threat, able to step behind the arc and hit big jumpers as well. Warren and Omoregie have added the physical presence in the paint. Hobbling at the start of the season, Omoregie has emerged as a solid defender and scorer in the paint.

A key difference in this year’s team, Samuels said, is their off-court relationship with one another. “This group of guys play for each other, day in and day out. From the offensive standpoint, we keep trying to make plays for somebody else. We keep trying to set the right screen, if we’re making the right passes, if we continue to play unselfish, then our offensive execution will take care of itself," he said.

When asked about the team’s potential, Samuels was emphatic about how close he felt the team was. “We’re very close to being a very good basketball team. We are now able to play without all our pieces. It starts with our decisions offensively and defensively. We’ve got to continue to come to practice with a hardhat mentality. We’ve got to learn to win ugly. These rough games allow us to learn how to play with adversity. If we can get out of these three or four minute pockets, (of inactivity) we can be very good. And, we’re still a young team,” he concluded.


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