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In his fifth season, Jermaine Samuels continues to shun the spotlight while being a leader for Villanova

The 6-foot-7 forward came back for a fifth season granted by the NCAA because of the pandemic. He wants to help the Wildcats do something special.

Jay Wright talking with Jermaine Samuels after the Blue White Scrimmage on Oct. 7 at Finneran Pavilion.
Jay Wright talking with Jermaine Samuels after the Blue White Scrimmage on Oct. 7 at Finneran Pavilion.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

Jermaine Samuels quietly goes about his business on the basketball court for Villanova. Even as he prepares for his fifth season with the Wildcats, he seeks neither attention nor the spotlight, especially in a bonus year where he wants to help his team do something special.

For that to happen, he knows he has to step up and try to be the best leader possible while setting the example for the Cats’ younger players.

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“I think it’s changed drastically,” Samuels said at last week’s media day. “I went from not playing to playing a little bit to starting, to starting at the wing, starting at the five. I’ve been all over the place and I’ve seen a lot. So I just try to pass down that knowledge to the younger guys and hopefully they can understand it and they can see it in practice and in games, and implement it and know how serious it is.

“Everything counts and everything matters. I feel like that’s my biggest role and that’s everything on the floor — rebounding, defending, scoring, passing. It’s everything. I’m going to hold myself accountable to that and continue to get better at that every day.”

As Villanova, ranked No. 4 preseason, prepares for its season opener Tuesday against Mount St. Mary’s, Samuels and Collin Gillespie, each of whom accepted a fifth year of eligibility allowed by the NCAA due to the pandemic, have set the tone in practice. The veterans of Jay Wright’s program continue to emphasize the little details important to what is called “Villanova basketball” — a focus on defense and rebounding, efficient offense, playing together.

Despite playing much of the season with a broken finger that required offseason surgery, the versatile, 6-foot-7 Samuels had his best campaign in a Wildcats uniform, improving his three-point shooting from 27.6% to 37.1% , and his free-throw shooting from 72.7% to 82.8%. He averaged 12.0 points per game, 15.5 in the postseason. Even in his fifth year, the development continues.

“I try to treat it like my last year as a senior,” he said, “except that I just try to put extra emphasis on consistency and bringing these guys together, make sure that everyone is on the same page. We’ve been here long enough to know where everything is and how it should be done, and there should be no excuses on why it shouldn’t get done. So I put that on myself and Collin does as well, and we try to emphasize that every day in practice.”

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Samuels is working with the Wildcats’ talented freshman quartet — Trey Patterson, Nnanna Njoku, Jordan Longino, and Angelo Brizzi — who are competing for playing time on a veteran team. He likes Longino’s ability to defend, and calls Brizzi “a very sneaky athlete” in the way he plays.

“They’re all different in their own ways and they’re really together, and they have each other’s back,” he said. “I’m excited to be on the floor with those guys.”

Wright said Samuels is doing a great job of leading off the court. On the court, he feels the player will continue to progress.

“Just in every aspect on the court, being a leader, more dominant, more consistent, more aggressive,” the coach said. “Not that he wasn’t before, it’s just that he’s got the ability to go to another level. I think that’s why he came back for another year. Even though he had a great senior year, he wasn’t a finished product, he knows that. So he’s got a lot more to do.”

During his career, Samuels sometimes has shown a reluctance to shoot.That was evident last season when, four days after scoring two points on 1-of-6 shooting at St. John’s, he knocked down six threes and scored 32 points — the most by any Villanova player in 2020-21 — in a home win over Georgetown.

Gillespie said Samuels is working hard to be a more complete player.

“He’s doing things on the offensive end, and is able to switch and guard every position at the defensive end,” he said. “He’s really versatile at both ends of the floor where if he can get switches against fives and fours, he can drive. He’s able to step out and shoot as well. So he’s working on becoming more complete and more efficient.”

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It won’t be an easy nonconference season for the Wildcats. They’ll be playing at No. 2 UCLA and at No. 8 Baylor. They’ll have neutral-court games against No. 18 Tennessee, and either No. 7 Purdue or No. 19 North Carolina, plus a Madison Square Garden matchup against Syracuse in addition to the Big 5 schedule.

Meanwhile, Samuels will continue to do what needs to be done, and do it without fanfare.

“I’ve never craved any of that” attention, he said. “I just want to be part of something special, that’s the biggest thing to me. I don’t care what my role is as long as we’re winning, and everyone’s in a good spot and we’re getting better, I don’t care.”