Thursday, February 16, 2012

Samhan to love: Former US NCAA star ready to lead Talk ‘N Text title defense

source: Mikkel Bolante | InterAKTV

When he was playing in the US NCAA, the San Francisco Chronicle said that Talk ‘N Text import Omar Samhan was one of the best interviews in college basketball, whether in a locker room or at a formal press conference.

Sitting down with him at Talk ‘N Text practice, it quickly becomes apparent why. Samhan is funny and surprisingly insightful. Even better, however, he does not hold back. Within five minutes, he had already compared himself to Shaquille O’Neal, bragged about seeing the “Linsanity” phenomenon coming, gave Petron Blaze import Nick Fazekas some good-natured ribbing, and even shared his thoughts about Ateneo center Greg Slaughter.

“I would say some pretty crazy stuff,” admitted Samhan. “I guess I had some good quotes.”

There was plenty of opportunity for Samhan to talk in front of a microphone back in 2010, when he was attending St. Mary’s College of California. Back then, Samhan was a dominant force for the Gaels in the NCAA tournament and a veritable nationwide sensation in the United States.

The Gaels were seeded 10th in the South Regional bracket of the tourney, but breezed through No. 7 Richmond and No. 2 Villanova, a team led by former Talk ‘N Text import Scottie Reynolds. It was the first Sweet 16 appearance for St. Mary’s, and Samhan was a big part of those wins, scoring 61 points on 24-for-32 shooting in the two games.

Suddenly, people all over the country were talking about Samhan.

“It was really, crazy. Every time I turn on the TV, I see my face. I was in front of magazines. It was really crazy but it was fun,” he said.

“I liked it. I embraced it. I had a really good time and I made some memories and I have some pretty cool stories from it.”

Unfortunately, the ride ended when the Baylor Bears, behind 2010 NBA Draft sixth pick and current Golden State Warriors big man Ekpe Udoh, eliminated the Gaels the next game.

European sojourn

Though he averaged 20.9 points and 11.0 rebounds as a senior, Samhan was not drafted in the NBA that. He found himself on the summer league roster and training camp of the Dallas Mavericks. But he couldn’t play himself onto the team and instead signed to play professionally in Europe.

He played with Lithuanian club Zalgiris Kaunas, where he averaged just 10.7 minutes per game in 41 appearances in Lithuania, the Baltic League, the VTB United League and the Euroleague.

“[My playing time] went up and down,” Samhan shared. “Not as much as I wanted.”

Samhan expressed frustration over the pace of the European style of play.

“It’s really, like, slow. Slow-paced. I’m used to more up-and-down, run-and-gun. In college, we’d get up and down. We’d score a hundred points. In Europe, you’d never do that. That was a big difference.”

‘No pressure’

Today, Samhan finds himself being brought in by the Tropang Texters, a team known for its run-and-gun style. Despite Talk ‘N Text’s recent winning history — the team has won three of the last four titles in the PBA — Samhan said he feels no pressure about reinforcing the squad.

“There’s no pressure on me. I’m on the best team, with the best owner and the best coaches. Really, I got a pretty easy job,” he said.

“There’s more pressure on the other imports to carry their team to a championship-level. My team’s already on that championship-level. All I have to do is not mess it up.”

Samhan is a traditional big man, a throwback to the old days before the Kevin Garnetts and Dirk Nowitzkis changed the mold for seven-footers. A low-post presence, he sees no reason why he can’t fit into the Talk ‘N Text game.

“When Shaquille O’Neal got traded to Miami, Miami won a championship. Won a championship in LA. I think, if you’re a good big guy, you can fit in anywhere, any style, as long as you play hard, you rebound hard.”

Samhan has trained with Talk ‘N Text captain Jimmy Alapag at Joe Abunassar’s Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, a training center frequented by a lot of NBA players. The two have played a lot of pick-up games with each other, which should be a big factor in the coming conference.

“I played with Jimmy before, back in the US, so I’m used to him. A lot of these other guys are good at basketball and they’re smart. We’ll be fine. As long as I come in and play well, and they can trust me. That’s the biggest thing, is the trust. Once that comes, another championship is gonna come.”

Ready for the rivalry

Samhan’s early introduction to the PBA culture –- he arrived weeks before the conference opened -– also gave him the opportunity to learn about his squad’s budding rivalry with the Petron Blaze Boosters.

“Yeah, I don’t like them,” Samhan said.

When asked about Petron import Nick Fazekas, Samhan feigned ignorance about the Petron import.

“Who? Who’s that?”

Fazekas. He scored 37 points in his debut game.

“He didn’t play me. Who he play?”

Ginebra. He scored 37 on Ginebra in a losing effort.

“They lost? So he scored enough to lose, right?”

Samhan then gave a big smile to indicate he was just horsing around.

“No, I know who Nick is. I played with him before,” said the laughing Samhan.

“I’m not really worried about it. We don’t like Petron, Petron don’t like us. I’m jumping into the rivalry full head. I’m with us, and whoever their import is, he isn’t good enough.”

Playing versus Slaughter

Because he came early, he needed a way to stay in shape while the Texters wrapped up their series against the Tigers. For that, Talk ‘N Text had him train with the 7-foot Greg Slaughter of the Ateneo Blue Eagles, who practice at the same venue as the pro team.

“I got to play with Greg a few days. I think he’s a pretty good player. He’s got a bright future and I think he’ll be really good,” Samhan said. “He moves well for his size and he plays hard, which is important for a big guy. I like his game.”

Did Slaughter score on you?

“He didn’t. But that’s not saying much because not a lot of people do.”

But talk is just talk until it’s backed up with results on the court, and Samhan knows that.

“If I do my part, we should win another championship. That’s my goal, to win a championship. If we get to the finals and lose, it would be a bad year for me,” he said.

“I want to win a championship or nothing.”

If he leads the Tropang Texters to a championship, Samhan will be right back in the spotlight, speaking in front of microphones. Right back where he seems most comfortable.

Win on the court, and Samhan will find himself right back where he belongs.