A cellphone in his hand, Jared Sam flanked his lifelong friend Damian Jones and began videoing during Jones’ NBA draft party in June 2016.
As soon as NBA commissioner Adam Silver approached the draft podium to announce Jones as 30th pick to the Golden State Warriors, Sam flipped the camera to a front-facing view and smiled as he looked deep into the tiny lens with the NBA's newest player at his side.
Jones was swarmed by nearby family members as cameras clicked to capture the scene. Sam, as a loyal friend, recorded it all.
This was Jones’ moment. The Scotlandville product went to Vanderbilt for three seasons and turned pro — the ultimate goal.
Then there was Sam. The quiet, humbled, soft-spoken fellow was in the support role two years ago but is now approaching his own moment.
Even before Sam’s final college season began this November, the 6-foot-10 devoted friend, son and teammate began planning for his life to drastically change.
“In a few years, I see myself playing pro ball,” Sam said. “Really, I have no destination about where I want to be. Of course, I want to be in the NBA. But if not, it’s possible to go overseas and make good money. Just basically want to play pro ball and make good money to provide for myself and my family.”
‘Took me in’
A 15-minute drive from Southern’s campus and Sam is home. A home-cooked meal awaits, and his shows are recorded on the television at his parent’s house.
“Basically when I get there, I just get straight to eating,” Sam said in a lengthy interview Wednesday, topics ranging from Sam’s status as one of Southern’s most decorated players in the past 20 years to a potential professional future.
Sam’s story is rare. Scotlandville Magnet High School doesn't have many undervalued prospects, thanks to the Hornets’ dynastic stretch of state titles. But Sam was one, and he decided to stay at home and play for the Jaguars.
Sam had other options. Northwestern State and Southeastern, among others, also pursued.
But leaving home, his parents and this city wasn’t ideal.
“We didn’t have to sell him on a whole lot to get him over here,” said Southern coach Morris Scott. “His dad and mom both went to school here. They both wanted him close to home so they can watch him play a lot. It was kind of an easy sell for us to get him over here.”
Scott, a seasoned assistant on former coach Roman Banks’ staff when Southern recruited Sam, was less of an influence in landing Sam than Banks.
Sam didn’t garner massive attention while at Scotlandville. Playing with 7-footer Jones; former Southern point guard Tre’lun Banks, Roman’s son; and for Scotlandville coach Carlos Sample, Banks’ half-brother and also a former Southern point guard, Sam’s high school career revolved around Southern.
“He plays on any other high school team in the city … he may be in a different place right now,” Scott said.
Sam's parents are Southern alumni and travel to most of Southern’s games. Scotlandville is less than one mile from Southern. Roman Banks, now Southern’s athletic director, and Tre’lun became like family.
“He took me in like one of his children,” Sam said. “I’ve been knowing (Tre’lun) since ninth grade. I had really been seeing him every day, every other day … Might as well say we lived together.”
‘A special breed’
These days as Southern’s team captain, Sam’s normal day is simple. It’s almost all basketball.
An individual workout kicks off Sam’s morning. The 240-pounder might lift weights as Southern’s other players attend classes before all gather for practice.
If Sam has homework in one of his graduate-program online classes, he’ll tend to that when it's necessary.
“It’s like a laid-back day,” Sam smiled.
The 6-foot-10 rebounding and scoring menace, who has 14 double-doubles this season, has plenty of time to focus on expanding his game. Although large, Sam’s not a dunker. He’s a back-to-the-basket true power forward who prefers skyhooks and finesse low-post moves.
Sam put up more jump shots when he played AAU ball in high school, Scott said. Now, at 16.6 points per game this season, why should he?
“I mean, I’m scoring the ball,” Sam said. “Two points is two points; that’s how I look at it.”
With one regular-season game remaining, Sam has 1,421 points and exactly 900 rebounds in 129 career games. He's started at least 29 games in all four years at Southern, basically every game.
“He’s one of those special guys,” Scott said. “He’s a special breed.”
'His next step’
Scott prefers it in writing.
The coach required each Southern player to hand-write personal goals, ranging from team accomplishments to individual achievements. It helped Scott, who’s in his first season as head coach, learn more about who he’s coaching and what they desired. Sam had two predictable goals.
“Of course, he wanted to win the championship his senior year and all that good stuff,” Scott said.
Southern is in fifth place before Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. regular-season finale — Sam’s senior night — against Prairie View A&M and is likely to host a first-round game of next week’s SWAC tournament.
“He said he wanted to be a professional player as well,” the coach said.
Sam’s not one to exude extreme confidence. He’s aware of how his game compares to rangy post players dreaming of the NBA, a league with an increasing emphasis on the 3-point shot. Sam made one 3-point heave in his Southern career, earlier this season with an expiring shot clock.
He’s well aware the path to the NBA for bigs reluctant to shoot 3-pointers isn't easy.
“Our high school coach used to always tell us, 'If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,' ” Sam added. “If you keep scoring the ball in the post, why stop? That’s how I look at things.”
But Sam can stretch it out. A mid-range jumper is part of Sam’s game and could help land him on an NBA Summer League roster and a chance to secure a full-time spot.
“Being able to shoot is just like an added bonus,” said Jones, who’s under contract with the NBA’s 3-point powerbroker, the Warriors. “He’s tough to defend because he has that outside shot. I hadn’t played against him in college. That would’ve been dope if we did.”
Sam also could play internationally. He grabbed attention from international scouts when Southern played in Croatia before Sam’s junior season, Scott said.
“There’s been a lot of buzz about him,” Scott said. “About what’s his next step.”
“Always aim high,” Sam said. “Always prepare yourself.”