USF's Samuel has fond memories of his time with UConn men

Fond memories will come flooding back to Terrence Samuel on Wednesday.

Samuel will walk on to the Gampel Pavilion court and see the spot where former UConn teammate Shabazz Napier drained a dramatic buzzer-beating jumper to top Florida in 2013.

He'll look up at the program's four national championship banners and feel good about contributing to the 2014 title run.

"I'll definitely feel a little bit emotional just thinking about all the good times that I had there in the past," Samuel said during a conference call on Tuesday. "I'm just looking forward to it."

Samuel, who spent the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons as a reserve guard at UConn before transferring, returns to Storrs on Wednesday as a member of the South Florida Bulls. The American Athletic Conference game begins at 7 p.m.

After playing last season at Penn State, where he completed his undergraduate degree, Samuel headed to South Florida as a graduate transfer. He's started all 23 games, averaging career highs in points (8.0), rebounds (3.9) and assists (2.9) for the struggling Bulls (8-16, 1-10), who've lost 10 of their last 11 games.

"He's done a tremendous job," USF coach Brian Gregory said. "He came here with the hope of playing a bigger role and playing significant minutes. And obviously, he's done that. ... He is a tremendous young man, doing great in the grad program here. He was a great student at both UConn and Penn State, as well.

"... With the amount of games that we have left, he can end his career on a really high note and two or three years down the road, when we're a much different program, I think he'll take great pride in what he helped us accomplish."

The Huskies may have not even reached the 2014 Final Four without Samuel.

When foul trouble limited Napier's playing time against No. 2 seed Villanova in NCAA second-round action, Samuel filled in, finishing with a season-high 11 points in 21 minutes in a 77-65 upset win in Buffalo. He also had 10 points in a Sweet Sixteen win over Iowa State at Madison Square Garden.

A 6-foot-3 guard from Brooklyn, Samuel went on to play 11 minutes in the national championship game against Kentucky. He averaged 2.4 points during his freshman season.

"I think about it all the time," said Samuel of the Villanova game. "You don't play that much all season and then your name is called in the tournament against one of the top teams in the country. You've just got to always be ready. It's one of the best games I've played. ... I was just happy that I could help."

UConn coach Kevin Ollie is looking forward to giving Samuel a big hug on Wednesday.

"He played an important role in our championship," Ollie said. "That Villanova game is one the really sticks out for me. ... He gave us an opportunity to rest Shabazz and (Ryan) Boatright. He just played great defense throughout the tournament."

Samuel spent one more season at UConn, averaging 3.8 points while appearing in 26 games, starting seven during the 2014-15 season, before deciding to transfer. A desire to play a bigger role led to the move, according to Samuel who appeared in 28 games last season for Penn State, averaging 3.9 points.

He has no regrets about leaving UConn and his relationship with Ollie is still "good." He chose USF because of the coaching staff, warm weather and palm trees, adding that it was always negative 10 degrees at UConn.

"Every decision I make I think about it for a lot of time," Samuel said. "I just feel like the journey that I have taken is the right one for me. And I'm just happy about where I am right now."

His ties to UConn remain strong. He keeps in regular contact with former teammates Rodney Purvis, Kentan Facey, Amida Brimah, Tor Watts, Napier and Boatright. He's also friends with current walk-on Christian Foxen.

Samuel said he's unsure what type of reception he'll receive from Husky fans. His mother and brother will be making the trip to Storrs.

"He did a lot for us and did a lot for the program," Ollie said. "I know the fans are going to wish him the best of luck, but hopefully he doesn't have too good of a game against us."

UConn (11-12, 4-6) is certainly in a different place than it was when Samuel played in Storrs.

"Obviously, they're not having a great year," Samuel said. "But I feel like every team goes through that every now and then. They still have good players and a good coach. I feel like they're going to get out of that hole."

g.keefe@theday.com

UConn vs. South Florida

Location: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs

Tip: 7 p.m. (ESPNU)

Records: UConn 11-12, 4-6; South Florida 8-16, 1-10

Last game: UConn lost to Cincinnati, 65-57, Saturday; USF lost to Tulsa, 63-54, Sunday

Probable starters: UConn, 6-3 jr. guard Jalen Adams (17.7 pts, 4.5 rebs, 4 assists), 6-2 so. guard Christian Vital (14.2 pts, 5.0 rebs), 6-8 r-jr. forward Terry Larrier (14.3 pts, 4.9 rebs), 6-8 r-fr. forward Mamadou Diarra (2.8 pts, 2.8 rebs), 6-9 freshman forward Josh Carlton (4.4 pts, 4 rebs)

USF, 6-1 grad. guard Stephan Jiggetts (12.3 pts, 3.3 assists, 3.2 rebs), 6-3 fr. guard David Collins (9.9 pts), 6-3 grad. guard Terrence Samuel (7.9 pts), 6-6 grad. forward Payton Banks (9.9 pts, 2.9 rebs), 7-2 jr. center Nikola Scekic (2.2 pts, 2.3 rebs)

Noteworthy: UConn 1-5 in last six games, USF lost 10 of 11. ... Huskies go from hosting 1st place Cincy to last place USF. ... Series: UConn leads 19-2, winning nine straight including sweeping all three meetings last season, all by double digits. Last met in 2017 AAC tourney – Huskies, 77-66. ... Only AAC win for Bulls at Tulane. ... Top reserve: 6-10 sr. forward Isaiah Manderson (7.3 pts, 4.1 rebs). ... USF last in AAC in scoring (58.6 pts), FG defense (47.9) and 11th in rebound margin (-7). ... Bulls held under 70 points in all but two league games. ... USF shoots almost as well from three in AAC play (36.7, 2nd) as from field overall (38.5). Banks top 3-point weapon, sinking 47. ... Ex-Husky Samuel and Banks former Penn State teammates. ... Fr. Alexis Yetna attended Putnam Science Academy. ... Hot: Adams converted 36 of last 38 FTs. ... Cold: Huskies shot under 40 percent in four of last six games. ... UConn outscored by 108 points in the first half this season. ... Huskies 9-3 at home, 5-1 at Gampel. Bulls 2-7 on the road. .. Up next: UConn visits No. 22 Wichita State for the first time on Saturday.

— Gavin Keefe

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