INDEPENDENCE: In one summer, Samardo Samuels transformed himself from the incredible bulk to the Incredible Hulk.
He lost at least 20 pounds since last season and cut his body fat from 15 percent down to somewhere between 6 and 7 percent.
It was a needed transformation.
When he held his exit interviews at the end of last season, Cavaliers coach Byron Scott made it clear that Samuels was about out of chances and that he needed to get serious about his conditioning if he wanted to stick in this league.
Samuels returned home to Jamaica and dedicated himself to working out, passing up his mother’s cooking for long runs on the beach. New Cavs guard Jeremy Pargo, quickly becoming the team comedian, saw the new and improved Samuels and immediately gave him a nickname.
“When the season starts and we start playing games, one thing I’m going to tell him is, ‘Hulk ... smash,’ ” Pargo said. “You’ve seen the movie Avengers? When they told Hulk to smash, you see what he did.”
Samuels’ averages dipped to 5.4 points and 3.3 rebounds last season. He showed up overweight, irritating Scott, and struggled most of the season while bouncing between forward and center.
The addition of rookie Tyler Zeller should simplify Samuels’ role. He’ll still get some minutes at center, but the bulk of his time should come at his more natural position of power forward. He has always enjoyed incredible strength — hence the Hulk nickname — but now his conditioning is allowing him to aggressively chase loose balls and rebounds.
“He moves so much better,” Scott said. “The one thing he tried to rely on last year was brute strength. He’s still strong as an ox, but now he’s quick, too. He’s able to go after every rebound. That’s something he wasn’t able to show on a consistent basis last year. A lot of that has to do with his weight loss. I like where he is right now.”
Samuels does, too. Now entering his third year in the league, Samuels said things are clicking for him like they haven’t in the past.
“After two years, I’m finally starting to get it,” he said. “There’s definitely a transition coming into the NBA from college. Last year, every time I got [the ball], I felt like I had to make a spectacular play. Now it’s slowed down and I’ll do the right thing with the ball.”
Scott agreed that Samuels remains the team’s best, and perhaps only, viable scorer in the post. Many of Anderson Varejao’s points come off tip-ins and hustle plays, and Zeller’s best attributes remain to be seen. Samuels is the only established player who can post up an opposing big and get to the basket.
Scott, however, doesn’t believe the Cavs have anyone in the post that opponents must double team. Samuels could eventually evolve into that, but he’s not there yet.
“The coach doesn’t have to keep repeating himself,” Samuels said. “In the past it was, ‘Mardo do this, Mardo do that.’ It wasn’t registering. Now he can say things to me one time and I pick it up.”
When he wasn’t training on Jamaican beaches, Samuels was working out this summer with former Cav Antawn Jamison.
Jamison has always been hard on Samuels and that didn’t change despite the fact they’re no longer teammates. Jamison grilled Samuels as to why he would take one dribble and not go anywhere, or why he was passing up certain shots.
“Everything I did, he was on me,” Samuels said. “He thinks I think too much on the basketball court. He was a quick-trigger guy. He thinks I have a great shot. He thinks I shouldn’t hesitate.”
For the first time in his career, finally, Samuels isn’t hesitating. He’s charging straight ahead and salvaging what could’ve been a brief career.
“I think our conversation at the end of the season finally started paying dividends,” Scott said. “He finally started to listen. It was good to see he really took care of himself this summer, not only worked out but worked his body. I’m not the only coach who sat down and talked to him about what he needed to do this summer coming into training camp. He did everything he needed to do.”
Samuels, incidentally, grew up near Usain Bolt in Jamaica and met the legendary sprinter through a mutual friend. Samuels said crowds of people would gather to watch Bolt run in high school.
“I didn’t think he would be one of the fastest men in the world,” Samuels said. “It was pretty impressive. He came and played basketball with us a few times. He wasn’t that good.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.