LAS VEGAS -- These annual July summer recruiting tournaments and events inevitably give opportunity for a few players -- guys who are not five-star prospects -- to elevate the final months prior to their senior year of high school.
One such player I saw in the beginning of July at the Peach Jam, and then again in Las Vegas: Jermaine Samuels, Jr., a four-star player ranked 47th overall in the class of 2017, according to 247's national composite. Samuels is not a late riser -- he's been tracked by dozens of schools for three years now, as he been with Expressions Elite's 17U squad for the past three summers. He's been consistent and consistently getting better, some of that progression coming in spite of injury. There's a wide net of schools who've shown interest, and the list has only grown within the past few weeks: UConn, Marquette, Tennessee, Miami, Rhode Island, Cal, Providence, Harvard, Georgia Tech.
Georgetown, Arizona State and Indiana, among others, hopped on with offers in the past month.
On Thursday, Kansas offered him a scholarship, per multiple reports. Recently Kentucky has checked in and Duke has shown continual interest and kept in communication over the past month.
"Coach K, that blew my mind," Samuels said at the Fab48 in Vegas about a recent conversation he had with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Samuels would be a fit at Duke, but given K's recent track record with No. 1 classes and all, we're a ways away from that becoming a legitimate possibility. So right now, it's two schools -- Villanova, Indiana -- that seem to have the edge. Xavier was also thick in the mix, but Chris Mack has picked up two wing players -- Elias Harden verbally committed on Wednesday, and three-star Jared Ridder committed in writing in June -- and I'm told by a source that another verbal commitment (Naji Marshall) is expected to pledge for Xavier by the end of the week.
Meanwhile, UConn is still in good pursuit, and Indiana's only just begun its earnest pursuit of Samuels, who's one of the best scorers in the class, at least from what I saw in July.
He's constantly vocal, always brings energy, is relentless (and reliable) on defense. He's also a fairly patient player. It's hard not to see him as growing into an extremely good college player a few years from now. I could see him thriving, and learning, under Tom Crean or Jay Wright, easily.
Samuels is approximately 6-foot-5, 205 pounds. He was one of the best performers at the Peach Jam, which sparked Duke's interest. Samuels was maybe the most thoughtful, introspective interview subject of the 15 or so players I spoke with between Peach Jam and Vegas. His factors for a school decision will come down to education opportunities, playing time and how the coaching staff best utilizes his development as a player.
"Once I have all my offers on the table, I'll have to sit down with my parents and say, This is where I want to take my visits,'" Samuels said. "I just can't commit off the fact, 'This is the most prestigious program,' or they're saying I'm going to give me the most playing time. It's about the campus, because I'm going to have to live there eventually, so that's going to come in to play."
Playing time, education and the coaching staff emphasizing development will be the three biggest factors for him.
"I don't think I'm a finished product in any way," he said. "I feel like I have so much to improve on [once I get to] college."
Samuels has the talent to start at a lot of programs as a freshman, but it's not make-or-break with him. If the school is right, he said he's OK with being a sixth man-type in his first year. He models his game after a player who wasn't a mainstream type in college, a patient guy who didn't become a star until he got to the NBA: Paul George.
"That's the person I look up to most," Samuels said. "He has the ability to lead his team, score the ball, and on the other end he wants to defend the best player. He's carrying the load. I think he plays with a chip on his shoulder and that reminds me of me."
Samuels has competed with a chip since returning from injury last December. He suffered a torn patella tendon in his left knee -- his jumping knee -- and he had to get surgery last summer, which sidelined him for nearly five months. He injured the knee during his sophomore season of high school basketball, and it got progressively worse. He was not on the summer circuit in 2015 because of it.
"I got a chance to see the game from a different perspective," Samuels said. "As time went on I started to get better, to develop new traits."
It helped a lot in April, May and July, even after Samuels tweaked an ankle late into the Peach Jam. Injury aside, a few people I spoke with viewed Samuels as the most consistent player for Expressions Elite, even over five-star big man Nick Richards and coveted four-star point guard Tremont Waters. He's steady, and for so many coaches on the trail, that's what they're looking for. A steady kid who's still clearly, tangibly trending up.
And he's relentless in his pursuit to become better. That's his strongest trait, and the most obvious reason he should become an extremely important player -- perhaps a star -- by the time he's playing a second or third year in college.