Former Big 5 stars Jermaine Samuels and Jordan Hall are auditioning at the G League Elite Camp
Samuels, a former Villanova star, and Hall, who led St. Joe's in scoring, are playing at a precursor to the combine, where players work out for NBA and G League executives, scouts and coaches.
CHICAGO — While interviewing with the New Orleans Pelicans, Jermaine Samuels was asked to choose between a collection of characters from the superhero genre, including Batman and The Joker.
Samuels took The Joker because the villain’s “ability to manipulate is insane.” When asked if that meant he was also a manipulator, the former Villanova forward clarified with a, “No, no, no! It’s not like that!”
That exchange could be viewed as an example of the sometimes-bizarre questions tossed to the barrage of draft-eligible prospects meeting with NBA teams all week. But it put Samuels at ease by demonstrating “the tone was not as serious as I thought it was going to be” when he arrived at the G League Elite Camp at Wintrust Arena to cross a significant benchmark on his road to becoming a professional.
“Everyone’s trying to uplift everyone and not only just talk about basketball, but talk about life,” Samuels told The Inquirer Monday afternoon. " … As we’ve seen in these past couple years, the G League has produced many guys that have either started [or] helped the main guys in the [NBA].
“It’s not about the status. It’s about how you compete every day. I feel like if I have an opportunity, then I’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Samuels and St. Joseph’s guard Jordan Hall were among the 44 players invited to participate in the G League Elite camp, a precursor to the NBA Draft Combine that features the players who, on the surface, are more likely to be drafted next month. Coby Karl, the coach of the 76ers’ G League-affiliate Delaware Blue Coats, is also coaching one of the 5-on-5 teams at camp.
On Monday and Tuesday, those prospects went through combine-style strength, agility and on-court skill testing, played in two scrimmages and had conversations with NBA executives, scouts and coaches. Based on performance, select players from the G League Elite Camp will move on to join those who partake in the combine later this week.
Since averaging 11.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game during Villanova’s Final Four run, Samuels has trained at Peak Performance Project’s facility in Santa Barbara, Calif. He focused on his jumper’s consistency during that period, after shooting 27.6% on 2.8 three-point attempts per game during his final college season.
This week, Samuels said he wanted to show that he is committed to rebounding and defense, tentpoles of the overarching unselfishness at the Villanova program’s core. The NBA players Samuels said he tries to emulate include the Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green (“His ability to guard all five positions.”), the Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler (“Doesn’t do anything fancy. Just keeps it real solid.”), and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard (”No drama. Stone-faced.”).
“I just hope that coaches notice that,” Samuels said.
Hall, meanwhile, trained in the Phoenix area with Phil Beckner, whose clients include Mikal Bridges, the former Villanova star and NBA Defensive Player of the Year runner-up with the Phoenix Suns. After leading St. Joe’s in scoring (14.1 points per game) and assists (5.8 per game) and adding 6.7 rebounds per game in his final season, Hall aimed to show teams in Chicago his playmaking, increased strength and basketball IQ. According to leaderboards posted on the arena’s video board during timeouts of Tuesday’s scrimmages, Hall ranked in the top 10 in multiple testing categories, including tied for fourth in the three-point “star” drill where the shooter creates the shape of a star by alternating running between to the corners, the top of the key and the wings to simulate shooting on the move (16-of-25).
And following a wild 2021 offseason that nearly took him to Texas A&M before returning to Philly, Hall said the predraft process has been “100% easier.”
“I’m all in,” Hall told The Inquirer. “I’m not going back to school. I know where my focus is and where my mind’s at.”
Hall and Samuels scrimmaged on the same 5-on-5 team and, even though they did not previously know each other well, felt an immediate bond as former Big 5 players. Samuels was also looking forward to reuniting this week with Collin Gillespie, his former roommate and Villanova star who is taking part in the combine after training in Miami. They were coached by the Birmingham Squadron’s Ryan Pannone, the Windy City Bulls’ Henry Domercant, the G League Ignite’s Pooh Jeter and Daniel Ewing of the NBA’s Assistant Coach Program.
During Monday’s scrimmage, Hall scored nine points on 3-of-8 shooting (1-of-6 from three-point range) and added two rebounds in 18 minutes. Samuels totaled two points on 1-of-4 shooting and two rebounds.
In Tuesday’s scrimmage, they both had an impact in their team’s 111-94 victory. Hall flashed an ability to dish to the corner and in transition, and hit a pull-up jumper and a three-pointer. Samuels finished inside twice — once through a crowd while falling to the floor and once by getting the defender in the air and laying the ball in — and out-jumped an opposing player to tap the ball out for an offensive rebound. Samuels also regularly talked on defense and, after his team had seized an 11-point lead about six minutes into the second half, unleashed a, “Come on! Let’s go!”
Samuels and Hall both said they have tried not to assign too much attention to the possibility of receiving an invitation to stay for the combine. They could, however, find inspiration in players who have elevated from the G League Elite Camp to contributing on an NBA roster. A recent example: the Miami Heat’s Max Strus, who torched the Sixers in Games 5 and 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last week.
By Tuesday evening, both players had crossed an important benchmark to becoming a pro. And during that final scrimmage, the Big 5 alums connected when Hall found Samuels on the right wing to drain a three-pointer.
As they got back on defense, the former Hawk pointed at the former Wildcat.
“I just want to focus on the task that’s in front of me and go out there and try to compete and try to be unselfish,” Samuels said. “If that leads me to the next step, then I’m all for it. If it doesn’t, then God has something else in store for me.”
Added Hall: “Obviously, there’s a reason I’m here at the G League combine. So I just do my best. Do what I can do. Hopefully, I get that invite. But if not, I’m not going to hang my head over it. Just get back to work.”